I like Jack Del Rio. All signs indicate that he will be given until at least the rest of this year to show some progress, and he will probably still be here next year. I think this team's problems run much deeper than a simple switch at head coach. I still think Jack can turn this team around and execute the multi-season rebuilding job that is needed.
I know that I may be quickly becoming one of the minorities who still has faith in Jack, and as such, it has become time to analyze some people who are being lauded as possible replacements for Del Rio as head coach. I've included 6 candidates with NFL head coaching experience and 4 candidates with no NFL head coaching experience, presented in alphabetical order. I did not include Tony Dungy since I believe his retirement is permanent, and I did not include people like Romeo Crennel who I believe have no real support. How much, if at all, better off could the Jaguars be at the top? Let's find out...
Brian Billick (80-64 in the regular season, 5-3 playoffs, last seen with the Baltimore Ravens)
Billick spent 9 seasons with the Ravens, winning Super Bowl in 2000. Despite coordinating a very successful Vikings offense in the 1990s and having a reputation as a great offensive mind, his Baltimore teams were usually incredibly strong at defense and incredibly feeble at offense. Steve McNair led an offensive revival in 2006 but aged quickly and flamed out in the playoffs. In fact, after the 2001 season, Billick went 6 more seasons without winning a single playoff game. He was fired after his team went 5-11 in 2007.
Verdict: No evidence Billick would be do any better in Jacksonville. He's lost his reputation as an offensive mind, and his finest defensive years came when none other than Jack Del Rio was coaching his linebackers.
Bill Cowher (161-99-1, 12-9, Pittsburgh Steelers)
Cowher was the symbol of stability in Pittsburgh, spending 15 seasons as the head coach of the Steelers. He won Super Bowl 2005 in his 14th year as head coach, finally shaking the stigma of being unable to win the big game. His teams won 8 division titles and went to the playoffs 10 times, but Pittsburgh also underwent some lean years with Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox, missing the playoffs 3 years in a row from 1998-2000. Cowher resigned after a more disappointing 2006 season, 11 months after winning the Super Bowl.
Verdict: Cowher was helped tremendously in Pittsburgh by patience from his fans and his owner. He is the poster child for why it is good to have stability at the top of an organization. I think it would be extremely hard to convince him to come to Jacksonville, but he is a great coach.
Jon Gruden (95-77, 5-4, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Now an analyst on ESPN's Monday Night Football, Gruden started 38-26 with the Oakland Raiders, leading them to the infamous Tuck Rule AFC Championship Game that they lost. Gruden was traded to the Bucs in 2002 and promptly won the Super Bowl. In the six following seasons, his teams won two more NFC South titles but not a single playoff game, and it became popular to say that he won the Super Bowl with Tony Dungy's players. He forced out John McKay as GM and garnered a reputation for being somewhat difficult to work with. After losing the final four games of the 2008 season to miss the playoffs altogether, Gruden was fired.
Verdict: Gruden's record in Tampa was only 57-55, and the boy wonder has lost much of his shine. He has a reputation as an offensive mind, but his Tampa teams didn't do much of anything. I don't believe Gruden would be an upgrade over Jack Del Rio.
Marty Schottenheimer (200-126-1, 5-13, San Diego Chargers)
The 5-13 playoff record should tell you all you need to know. No matter where he is, Marty's teams do very well in the regular season and flop in the playoffs. Martyball is ultra-conservative, relying on a powerful running game and his defense.
Verdict: Martyball wouldn't be any different from Jack Del Rio's own preferences, and it would be unrealistic to expect any better postseason performances. Not an upgrade.
Mike Shanahan (138-90, 8-5, Denver Broncos)
After a rebuilding year and losing to the Jaguars in the playoffs the following year, Shanahan's Broncos won the Super Bowl after the 1997 and 1998 seasons, riding John Elway's arm the whole way. In what is a common theme here, Shanahan's teams won only 1 playoff game in the ten seasons following Elway's retirement. He was fired after the 2008 season fell apart.
Verdict: With a Hall of Fame QB, Shanahan was successful. Without one, he was not. This can be argued either way, but I believe Shanahan in teal would look much more like the other 10 seasons than the two Super Bowl seasons.
Mike Tice (32-33, 1-1, Minnesota Vikings as head coach, Jaguars as Assistant Head Coach/Tight Ends)
After two mediocre seasons, the Vikings exploded in 2004, led by Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss. They finished 8-8 but made the playoffs, defeating the Packers before falling to the Eagles. Tice's team failed to make the playoffs in 2005 despite being a game better at 9-7. Tice also faced controversy from a Super Bowl ticket scalping operation, and the party-boat scandal also happened on his watch. He was fired after the 2005 season and subsequently joined the Jaguars.
Verdict: I see nothing that indicates that the Jaguars would be better-disciplined under Mike Tice, and it scares me that his offensive explosion year only led to an 8-8 record and a loss in the divisional round. Tice would be nothing more than an interim coach in Jacksonville.
Russ Grimm, currently assistant head coach and offensive line coach for the Arizona Cardinals
Grimm spent seven season with the Steelers as offensive line coach, adding assistant head coach duties in the final three years. As such, he had a huge part in keeping Pittsburgh's powerful rushing attack. He was widely considered Cowher's likely successor, but after the job went to Mike Tomlin instead, Grimm joined Ken Whisenhunt in the desert. In his first year there, the Cardinals gave up the fewest amount of sacks they'd given up since 1978. The line also allowed Edgerrin James to rush for 1222 yards, the 5th-highest total in team history. The 2009 team ranked 2nd in passing and 4th overall, though the running game crashed to dead last in the NFL.
Verdict: An intriguing possibility. You have to wonder why the Steelers chose to give the much greener Tomlin a chance, and it is odd that Grimm is 50 and still has not ever been a head coach. He is very respected though, and the Jaguars would greatly benefit from his offensive line expertise.
Kyle Shanahan, currently offensive coordinator for the Houston Texans
The son of Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan is considered a rising star in coaching. He joined the Texans as WR coach in 2006, moved to QB coach in 2007, and was promoted to offensive coordinator for last season. During Kyle's time as a position coach, Andre Johnson was a beast (of course), and Matt Shaub and Sage Rosenfels compiled passer ratings in the mid 80s. The 2008 Texans offense ranked 4th in passing, 13th in rushing, and 3rd overall.
Verdict: Kyle Shanahan is only 29 years old. Lane Kiffin was over two years older when he was hired by the Raiders. He might not be ready to be an NFL head coach yet. It would take a huge leap of faith for a GM or owner to promote a candidate with such a short resume.
Charlie Strong, currently linebackers coach, defensive coordinator, and associate head coach for the Florida Gators
Strong's defenses at Florida have been....well, strong. His defense is largely responsible for winning the BCS championship game after the 2006 season. He is responsible for such college stars as Brandon Spikes, Reggie Nelson, and Derek Harvey. His units are known for being aggressive, disciplined, and apt at producing turnovers. Strong, who is black, has never been a college head coach despite experience that dates all the way back to 1991, and it is rumored that racism has played a part. He was hired as the coordinator under Ron Zook, served as the interim coach for the bowl game after Zook's dismissal, and stayed on as part of Urban Meyer's staff.
Verdict: Strong has absolutely no NFL experience, but few defensive coordinators in college football have as strong (sorry, I can't resist) a resume. He would be a gamble, and there is no precedent that I know of for hiring a college coordinator directly as an NFL head coach. Can he be successful? I don't know, but I am not sure the Jaguars in their present state couldn't afford to bring in someone that will be only then be learning the ways of the NFL.
Charlie Weis, currently head coach at Notre Dame (30-22)
Weis is arrogant; he's embattled at Notre Dame; and he's a three-time Super Bowl winning offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. After his third championship and fourth year overall with the team, Weis left the Patriots after the 2004 season to become the head coach at Notre Dame. His team did fine at first with Brady Quinn, endured the worst record (3-9) in school history in 2007, and has received mixed reviews since.
Verdict: Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini both were also successful coordinators with the Patriots, and both have already been fired from their first head coaching jobs. Josh McDaniels - Weis's successor as OC - has already rocked the boat as the new coach of the Denver Broncos, and he was forced to trade away his franchise quarterback after clashing with him. Could Charlie Weis be the first successful fruit from the Bill Belichick tree? I doubt it.
Again, every indication from the Jaguars organization is that Jack Del Rio is not going anywhere for this year or next. He is signed through 2012. But even if he is dismissed, I am having a hard time seeing many possibilities that are better. Cowher would be the best, but I seriously doubt he'd ever come here. Most of the other choices don't particularly inspire me, especially when compared to Jack. Only time will tell what happens, but I believe GM Gene Smith will make the right decision, no matter what that decision is.
In Gene We Trust.