[Note by River City Rage, 12/07/08 11:03 PM EST ] I'd like to take a moment and welcome TKOPA to the Front Page of Big Cat Country! Tkopa will be joining Collin, FSBlue, and I as we follow our Jaguars through hell and high water! Remember, if you write something that stands out, we will post it to the front page, post enough good stuff and you can join the team as well! Tkopa, FSBlue and Collin all started by commenting and writing fanposts, they're all true fans, and they know how to write a compelling and interesting article! - Chris
April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln, lay dying on a small bed in a cheap hotel across the street from Ford's Theater. At his side was his Secretary of War, Edwin M Stanton. Edwin Stanton was the meanest most insensitive SOB around, a man who would first embarrass and then demote military officers at will; a man who delighted in mocking others and openly referred to Lincoln as that "idiot in the White House". Lincoln promoted him to Secretary of War because he believed Stanton was the most qualified for the job. When Lincoln drew his final breath, Edwin M Stanton spoke the now famous line "There lies the greatest master of men that ever lived".
Lincoln let Stanton know who was in charge, but he also showed him respect for his ability. He returned the obnoxious behavior and insults with patience. Eventually Stanton wore down and became a very loyal supporter. Among NFL coaches today, Tony Dungy strikes me as a Lincoln kind of man.
Bill Belichick's time in Cleveland was referred to as a "reign of error". In an article written for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Tony Grossi reported this quote: "We never saw this potential in him, going to four Super Bowls," said former running back Kevin Mack. "We all knew he was a good coach, a great defensive coach. It's just surprising, really amazing, what's happened in New England. But there, he had a little more experience and got to reflect on what he did wrong.
Despite what you may think about Bill Belichick's personality, he never allowed himself to get in the way of his own success. If he needed to change, he recognized it and changed. He learned how to grow from defeat and failure. He always was a good judge of talent, now he is a good manager of talent as well. Another coach with that ability is John Gruden who, in my opinion, looks to be the next elite coach in the NFL.
I have witnessed people with high profile responsibilities, when faced with difficult times do one of two things; try to escape blame or accept responsibility and dive right in. Escaping blame doesn't work for long and when it catches up to you, you are done forever. Trying to solve the problem at least gives you a chance. In a storm, the crew must believe the captain is there and will guide them through, if not panic and rebellion set in.
So now we come to the current situation Jack Del Rio finds himself in. Jack Del Rio is not an elite coach despite his pay. He is still a head coach in training with a chance to be an elite coach. As he stares into the abyss of failure, he either emerges stronger with more inner strength, or he is swallowed up and soon forgotten. Here are the things he must do to survive and advance as a coach:
First; maintain a healthy football attitude and retain human dignity inside the organization. It is still a game and it is supposed to be fun but if the blame game and posturing starts, the ship sinks. Gary Kubiak, in my opinion, is going under as a coach because he points to others for reasons as to the team's shortcomings. Norv Turner has recently started going negative. Job loss is only a matter of time for both of them. Jack must maintain a healthy work environment and not let it grow toxic. He needs good people to respect him and want to work for him. Right now the phones are ringing as agents try to get their clients out of Jacksonville before the axe falls, while others, anticipating the axe, are trying to get their clients in. Good people only want to work for a good boss. Losers are always looking for work.
Second; the talent evaluation must be very realistic. The reason new coaches make an immediate impact is because they have no past with any of the players and are free to do an honest evaluation. Coaches develop a history with players and refuse to give it up, both for the good and the bad. If favoritism wins out over performance, the ship sinks. I don't like the feel of the Mike Peterson episode or the situation playing out with Fred Taylor. Abandon the Salvation Army rehabilitation approach to developing players, find the warriors and go to war.
Third; find the heart core again. Right now, I don't believe I can identify the core group of players that make up the heart of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Give up on this "grass is greener" approach to upgrading the team. We give away good players to free agency and get lesser ones back at more money. Dion Grant went to free agency and we replaced him with rookie Reggie Nelson and then paid Drayton Florence to come help. Jeff Fisher and Tony Dungy work at keeping their playmakers and avoid free agency. Identify, grow and reward the talent within. Create the heart of the team again, whoever it is.
Fourth; ensure your coaches are great teachers, not just good guys to hang with. Potential does not automatically turn into success and rookies don't arrive fully ready to play. Derrick Harvey has the skills, but has never truly learned his craft. He didn't play football until his junior year in high school and came out early from college. Ray Hamilton was our Defensive Line coach in 2007 before joining Mike Smith in Atlanta. Before Ray Hamilton, Atlanta was 30th in QB sacks, this year they are 15th. We were 9th before Ray left. Ray Hamilton knows how to teach. Derrick Harvey would have more sacks. Find Ray Hamilton!
So there you have it Jack, do these four things:
- Own the problem and create a great opportunity for good people.
- Be a shrewd and honest talent evaluator; see players from a new coach's eye.
- Develop a core of playmakers; bring heart back to the team.
- Have coaches that teach and can bring out potential.
Finally, Vince Lombardi is not revered because he won football games. He is revered because he led and inspired men who then went out and won football games. Those same men became successful in life as well. Jack, this is your moment as a man and a coach. Earn the loyalty of great coaches with strength and respect. Earn the player loyalty by finding and playing the best. Keep your dignity like Lincoln did when those next to you question your intelligence. Tony Dungy experienced the same treatment and he survived. I believe you can do it Jack. We will all be watching.