Jack Del Rio: The Jaguars' Man in the Middle

Tim McClellanCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2010

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 06:  Head coach Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars watches the play during the game against the Houston Texans at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on December 6, 2009 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent about him, every Jacksonville Jaguars fan has some sort of opinion on the current head coach, Jack Del Rio. With the rumor mill swirling endlessly over his future in Jacksonville, Del Rio has landed squarely in the middle of a debate of who is to blame for a team that started so well, but finished the season with a thud.

The typical fan reaction when things do not go according to their expectations is to find someone who is solely to blame for the struggles. In recent years, Del Rio has been mentioned occasionally as the culprit, but he received plenty of cover from former personnel guy, James "Shack" Harris.

Harris' blunders with player acquisition, particularly early in the draft, were most often attributed to the team struggles, and he ultimately paid the price with his job after a disappointing 2008 campaign.

With a meeting scheduled between Del Rio and Jaguars owner, Wayne Weaver, there is much to discuss about the future of the team, and more importantly, the head coach.

As the two parties prepare to come together to map out the future of the franchise, the rumors are churning up message boards, talk shows, and discussions around the water coolers in Jacksonville over reports that Jack Del Rio is interested in the soon-to-be vacated coaching position at the University of Southern California.

As a former All-American at USC, Jack Del Rio has the pedigree. As an NFL head coach, he has the qualifications. That head of hair gives him Hollywood street credibility. 

But, the reality is he has three years remaining on his current contract. He also is mid-stream with a rebuilding process under new General Manager, Gene Smith. This effort is showing great promise for the long-term success of the team based on the amount of young talent that contributed significantly this past season.

Whether he is ready to jump ship in the middle of this effort remains to be seen. Nobody but Del Rio and his closest confidants will know at this point where his mind is at. It seems fairly certain that the team will not fire the head coach with $15 million remaining on his deal, but they might be open to allowing him to explore his options with USC. 

Here is what we do know.

The team failed to exceed expectations.

This is the indictment.

They were widely predicted to finish no better than .500, and the range varied little depending on who was making the prediction. 8-8 was considered a success based on the level of roster turnover this past offseason. The Jaguars finished the season right where they were expected to wind up, but it was the manner in which they finished the season which is creating the disappointment among fans.

Disappointed fans are always going to look for the scapegoat, and with Harris out of the picture, it fell on the head coach and the quarterback to carry the load.

Both are deserving targets.

Both are struggling to rise above mediocrity in their endeavors, and neither has been able to take the next step to shed the tag.

Both have taken their fair share of blame, although it seems Del Rio is getting a bit more heat because of the late season collapse leading to four straight losses to close out the year.

When the Jaguars were 7-5, it seemed almost a lock they would make the playoffs as long as they could win the games they were supposed to down the stretch. By beating Miami and Cleveland, they were guaranteed a wild card berth. 

They lost the final four games.

To be honest, this team was never truly deserving of a post-season ticket. The wild inconsistencies that plague young teams were readily apparent throughout the year. The rebuilding effort was a success, but it was still a work in progress. There are still holes to be filled, and another offseason of acquisition needed to get the team moving ahead.

Del Rio is a flawed coach, but he is not so faulty that he cannot turn things around with the Jaguars. It comes down to desire, and whether he wants to see this process through, or if the call west becomes too much of a draw for him to ignore. Based on the controversy surrounding him, it might be an appealing option, even with the looming spectre of NCAA sanctions at USC.

In the end, if the rumors about the USC job prove to be legitimate, and Del Rio is interested in exploring the opportunity, it will give Wayne Weaver the freedom from having to dole out the balance remaining on the contract and head in a different direction.

But, if Del Rio opts to stay in the NFL, he needs to be given the opportunity to continue the rebuilding effort he started this year in the hope to finally silence the naysayers.

This should prove to be one of the most entertaining off seasons in recent history.