Any team can win a game. It goes hand-in-hand with that "Any Given Sunday" mantra. The good teams win more games than they lose and great teams win consistently. With that in mind, where are the Jacksonville Jaguars and why?
The Jaguars are an average football team. Jack Del Rio's tenure has been marked by roller coaster type seasons. One year the team over achieves and then the next year they fail to meet expectations. Del Rio's record illustrates my point, his record since taking over the Jags in 2003 is 51-48 with a 1-2 mark in the playoffs.
There are few franchises that are truly great. I will use the reigning Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers as an example. The Steelers have been owned by the Rooney family for decades. It's a family business where one generation is not only expected but honored to take over the franchise. Majority owner, Dan Rooney is carrying the torch for his family and whenever he decides he cannot oversee administration of the franchise the next Rooney will step into his shoes.
The Jaguars have a very good owner in Wayne Weaver. He believes in the city of Jacksonville and even though he's in a small market and doesn't have the money that other franchises do he isn't afraid to spend for players he think can help his club. He lets his scouts do their jobs and the coaches theirs. He isn't an owner you'll see on the sidelines constantly over the shoulder of his head coach.
Although ownership is just one facet of a successful franchise. The scouting department is crucial to a team's success because the NFL Draft is a team's lifeblood. Keeping with the "The NFL Draft is a team's lifeblood" theme the Jaguars needed a transfusion. Their failures in the first round were awful. Those wasted draft choices are those of James "Shack" Harris, the former personnel director for the Jags. The Steelers on the other hand have hit on most of their first round draft choices. The most important man in the Steelers organization that you've probably never heard of is Kevin Colbert. Colbert is the Steelers Director of Football Operations. He's basically the head talent evaluator and has a lot of pull on draft day. When looking at Pittsburgh's recent draft you can see Colbert does his job very well. Speaking of the draft I think it's only appropriate to look at how a consistent winner drafts compared to a team that is floundering around .500.
We'll examine the first round of three drafts spanning from 2003 to 2005 involving the Jaguars and Steelers.
2003: The Jaguars drafted Marshall quarterback Byron Leftwich seventh overall. Seven years later Leftwich is on his third team competing for a starting spot in Tampa. In that same draft the Steelers struck gold with USC's Troy Polamalu at the sixteenth overall spot. Polamalu has become one of the league's best defenders and is well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. The Steeler's safety is widely regarded as one of the best at his position, if not he best and has been an integral part of Pittsburgh's two Super Bowl titles in the past five years.
2004: The following year the Jaguars passed on Miami (OH) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger because they had just drafted Leftwich the year before. Instead of selecting the best available player the Jags selected with the ninth pick of the draft University of Washington receiver Reggie Williams. Williams went on to play five mediocre seasons with the Jaguars. Williams was a huge reach and had multiple run-ins with the law and remains currently unsigned. Roethlisberger fell to the 11th pick and was selected by the Steelers. The story could end there but then I'd be leaving out Big Ben's incredible rookie year where he garnered Rookie of the Year honors. In his second season Ben led the Steelers to their first Super Bowl win in almost thirty years and in 2008 he won a second Lombardi Trophy, giving the Steel City its sixth, making the Steelers the only franchise with six Super Bowl titles.
2005: The Jaguars opted to go with former Arkansas quarterback and work out wonder Matt Jones. Jones posted off the charts Combine numbers and flashed at the Senior Bowl making former Jacksonville personnel director James Harris make the quarterback turned receiver the 21st overall pick. The Steelers sat and waited for Virginia tight end Heath Miller to fall to them at the 30th spot. Miller was in the Jaguars' sights but his back injury and non-participation at the Combine scared them off. What makes this pick even harder to swallow is Andy Heck, the Jags assistant offensive line coach at the time, was Miller's position coach at UVA and probably knew him better than any other coach in the country.
So there it is. One team, the Jaguars, wasted three consecutive draft picks. It doesn't matter if Byron Leftwich turns his career around somewhere else, he was a bust for the Jaguars. Williams and Jones were perennial disappointments on and off the field. In that same span the Steelers drafted two players that are looking like future Hall of Famers in Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger. The third player, tight end Heath Miller, has become a very good tight end that could garner Pro Bowl consideration in coming seasons.
The next thing to consider is does the team have a head coach that is capable of taking the team to the playoffs and to the Super Bowl? You have to admire the Steelers consistency, they've only had three coaches since 1969. Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and now Mike Tomlin are the select few that have led the Black and Gold onto the field. The Steelers ownership believes in patience and letting a coach find his own way to win.
Noll yielded four Super Bowls, Cowher won one and Tomlin, in only his second year, has won another. The Rooney family knows coaches are going to have down seasons and they understand that a good coach can get his players to play hard for him no matter the dearth of talent on the team.
In their 15 years of existence the Jaguars have had two coaches, Tom Coughlin for the first eight seasons and Jack Del Rio since 2003. Coughlin got a young, expansion team to fight and play hard. Del Rio took the reigns after Coughlin was let go after multiple losing seasons. Since Del Rio has been in charge the team has been a tough, physical bunch but their effort has been less than 100% all the time.
That raises the question, Is Del Rio the right coach to lead the Jaguars to the playoffs consistently? Frankly his two playoff appearances in six years wouldn't be tolerated in other cities. His background as a former linebacker and fiery personality has sometimes led to riffs with players. When comparing Del Rio to his Pittsburgh contemporaries, Cowher and Tomlin, Del Rio falls short to both. JDR, like Cowher, is a former linebacker.
Where Del Rio seems to fall short is he doesn't always keep his personal feelings out of team matters. Cowher knew how to motivate and get the most out of his players. In the past Del Rio has often seen his team give half-hearted efforts.
Third year coach Mike Tomlin never played in the NFL but he worked his way up through the defensive coaching ranks. Tomlin brings exuberance that only a young coach can but there's also a calmness to him and a business-like approach that is usually only seen by veteran head coaches. Del Rio seems to lack the composure and sometimes the maturity that a "leader of men" to paraphrase Jack's words should have.
In Del Rio's defense the fact that James Harris blew three consecutive first round picks has hurt the talent on the team. I mean those are three players that should be building blocks for the franchise and each should be in the prime of their careers, so those busts of first round picks do sting.
I will say at least owner Wayne Weaver made a smart move in promoting Gene Smith into the exalted position of general manager. Smith, unlike Harris, understands how you build a team. Smith won't sacrifice character for talent. Smith also understands how you build a team, up front, not by drafting receivers that were reaches in the first place.
With a good owner in place and a promising young GM the Jaguars have the front office to be successful. The question now lies with Weaver and Smith, Is Del Rio the coach that can take the Jaguars to the next level? We've seen the up and down stuff from Del Rio's teams and we're growing tired of it. Patience is a virtue as the Rooney family has proven but sometimes you have to know when to cut and run from a losing situation.