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Weaver's decision to retain Del Rio sends all the wrong messages

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted Jan. 03, 2011 @ 8:31 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

Updated Jan. 3, 2011 @ 11:02 p.m. ET

In a press conference late Monday afternoon, one day after another once-promising Jaguars season came to its woeful conclusion, with a 34-17 dismantling by the lowly Texans, owner Wayne Weaver announced that head coach Jack Del Rio will be retained for 2011. Del Rio, who has a 65-63 record in eight seasons, including a 4-11 record in December and January the past three seasons, has led Jacksonville to the playoffs twice in eight seasons. But he has a contract that goes through 2012 and promises to pay him $5 million each of the next two seasons.

What Del Rio no longer has, according to Weaver, is defensive play-calling responsibilities. Weaver said that Del Rio will have a better opportunity to view the game as a whole and focus on making adjustments if he is not wrapped up in calling the defense.

The PFW spin

Including this season’s collapse, in which the Jags dropped their final three games, Jacksonville has failed to reach the playoffs after controlling its playoff destiny as late as Week 14 three times since 2006. What better indicator is there that the players are not responding to their leader?

According to Gene Frenette, a columnist for the Florida Times-Union, Del Rio is the only coach in the modern era (since 1970) to coach the same team for eight years without capturing a division title.

It’s ironic that Weaver, who has been so reluctant to pull the trigger on his guy, put himself and his team in this position by prematurely offering monster contract extensions in 2007 to Del Rio and QB David Garrard after the duo produced its lone playoff victory. At the time of the extensions, most league observers believed Weaver’s quick decision was spontaneous and ill-advised. Now you would be hard pressed to find a person with knowledge of the team who thinks Del Rio should still have a job.

The truth is, Jaguars’ fans deserve much better. Not only did they answer the bell this season by buying enough tickets to ensure that all eight home games were televised locally after all but one game was blacked out a season ago, but they stuck with their team through tough times. In a miserable stretch early in the season, in which the Jags were blown out by a combined 99 points in their first four losses, the fans continued to rally behind the club. It’s hard to fathom the Jaguars having as much success at the box office in 2011 with so many fans believing nothing is going to change. But Weaver said the fans will just have to trust him. Hardly reassuring coming from a man who has made some questionable personnel decisions over the years.

GM Gene Smith also deserves better. After spending the past two years cleaning up the drafting disasters of Del Rio and former vice president of player personnel James “Shack” Harris, Smith has nothing to show for it except a combined record of 15-17, which includes a 7-9 record in the second half of the season. With Smith’s drafting success — the Jaguars are one of only four teams that have every player drafted in the past two years on the active roster, practice squad or injured reserve — it is reasonable to believe that this team can be very competitive next season with another strong draft class.

Weaver’s press conference featured one contradiction after the next. A few of the lowlights include Weaver saying, “We got what we deserved this season.” How on earth does Del Rio deserve to return after another collapse? Weaver assured the media that “you have to look behind the record, because the team has shown growth.” In fact, the club did improve its record by one game this season, but try selling that to the fans. Weaver was adamant that money did not play into the decision. But with the uncertainty of a new CBA in the spring, and $10 million still guaranteed to Del Rio, fans should be insulted by Weaver’s hypocrisy.

Our favorite, though, was Weaver saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I don't think we've reached that point.” Huh? What are we missing? How is bringing back Del Rio for a ninth season after failing to make the postseason in seven of the previous eight campaigns not an exact description of Weaver’s definition of insanity?

The one thing Weaver followed through on was stripping the play-calling responsibilities from Del Rio. Weaver stated, “A lot of the blitzes were too vanilla and the club needs to find more creative ways to get to the quarterback,” and “the defense clearly regressed this season."

Jacksonville absolutely regressed, finishing the season ranked 28th in the league in yards allowed after concluding the ’09 campaign ranked 23rd in the same category. This is particularly troublesome when considering all of the upgrades that were made on that side of the ball in the offseason.

It’s no secret that Del Rio’s calling card is his team’s stoutness against the run, but that has been the very downfall of his club’s past two December collapses. Just as it appeared young DTs Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton and Tyson Alualu were becoming a dominant pairing inside, they were suddenly penetrable, which is not a good reflection on Del Rio and his ability to coach his young players.

Del Rio also grossly mishandled CB Derek Cox’s situation early in the season, and the revolving door at safety, for that matter. Cox was benched at halftime in Week One after a rough outing against Broncos WRs Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney, and did not regain his starting job until Week Seven. How does benching a second-year CB for 6½ games after he started all 16 games as a rookie help the kid learn? Furthermore, we’re told that Cox’s struggles were at least in part because Del Rio made the mistake of moving him to the left side of the field when veteran CB Rashean Mathis held out of voluntary OTAs. Very few team observers actually believed that Mathis wouldn’t be in training camp. Del Rio simply couldn’t handle Cox’s cerebral attitude, which doesn’t mesh well with Del Rio’s.

And the head coach essentially admitted his mistake with the safety position, as the club decided to go with young safeties halfway through the season and let them learn on the fly. Why, then, were they not in the starting lineup in Week One? The Jaguars surely could have used them when veteran journeymen Gerald Alexander and Anthony Smith were getting burned frequently in blowout losses to the Chargers, Eagles and Titans.

What it all comes down to, despite Weaver assuring the fans that it did not play into his decision, is money. Weaver had 10 million reasons to bring Del Rio back and he is going to have to live with the consequences. Jacksonville made major strides toward erasing the perception that the city can’t sustain an NFL team this season, but it takes more than a year of improved attendance to turn it around. By bringing back Del Rio for his ninth NFL season, Weaver is essentially sending the message to the fans that the product on the field is good enough. It remains to be seen whether the fans agree and continue to support their team.

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