(INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 19: Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars looks on against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 19, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Colts defeated the Jaguars 34-24.) (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
It's inevitable in today's NFL for fans to speculate after just about any loss or disappointment, no matter how unreasonable, about the chances of a change in coaching staff. The fact that owners are often unwilling to wait until the offseason for a change in their head coach when things go really bad only adds to the fuel of other teams' fans arguing for changes in their own coaches.
Often the smallest mishap, or most minor miscalculation is seen by fans as the most horrible injustice to them, and therefore deem the coach as a person to go. There are often large things, and one can almost always explain why a head coach loses his job (almost: see Dungy in Tampa).
This season we have seen four head coaches lose their jobs, and we can point to a reason for each one. Wade Phillips was doing little to nothing with his team when one considers the talent on that roster. Brad Childress couldn't hold his team together and had a practical mutiny. Josh McDaniels? His horrible decisions on draft day put him on thin ice, and that ice broke with the team getting more losses than any year since 1999 (10). Mike Singletary was put a bad situation in San Fransico, and lost his job because he couldn't produce a winning season in three years with the team.
That all being said, after the jump, let's take a look at the Jaguar's own head coach and coaching staff and ask ourselves this question: Do these coaches deserve to keep their jobs? What (who) could change in the offseason?
I want to say first that I won't have the time or patience to evaluate all of the coaching staff. What I want to do instead in to take a look at the more... important and questioned coaches, as well as some of the coaches that were new to the team this year. We're going to start small and build our way up. Kay?
Todd Monken - Wide Receivers - This year Todd has seen the best group of wide receivers on this team since Jimmy Smith left, in my personal opinion. You could argue that the group doesn't have as much potential as in the past, but as far as production and effort goes, you simply can't argue against this year's lineup. Mike Thomas seems to be really coming on as a solid WR. Jason Hill was an inspired addition, and he looks like a bright spot in the future. Mike Simms-Walker hasn't played up to our expectations after last year - but who could have? Looking at what he was working with, Todd has done a great job this year. There are likely to be changes to the WR position in the offseason, as there are a few players with contracts expiring and and addition wouldn't hurt. We'll see what happens next year, as I believe Todd'll be back.
Andy Heck - Offensive Line - The offensive line is one of the most important and talked about units on this team. When the offense does well, it is easy to point at the line play as a key. The same can be said when the offense is poor, though. So how do we evaluate Andy this year? He lost his starting RT early, and the replacements (no offense, Jordan) have simply not played at the quality needed. The line is up and down, as I said before - in the wins they are a key. In the losses, they are a broken key. Is it Andy who is to blame for that? Should most consistency be expected? A run-first team needs its line to be productive every game, and Garrard, we know, simply can't cut it when he gets hit all game. Is the lack of youth on the inside of the line to blame? I don't know, but I think the offensive line is a place to watch this offseason.
Joe Cullen - Defensive Line - Everyone should know Joe Cullen's story from a few years back, the whole naked in the drive threw thing. When he was hired, some questioned it, but he has apparently cleaned up his act, and has been trying to help the Jaguar's defensive line do the same thing. He had a lot of help in the off season, with the pickup of Aaron Kampman, Tyson Alualu and three other DL players in the draft. This year was an interesting one to watch the DL, as everyone in the NFL was evaluating it. Before the loss of Kampman for the season, the line looked as if they were going to be strong eventually, but you could tell that it was reliant upon Kampman to produce. When he went down, however, the young players responded. Jeremy Mincy has produced well considering, and with Knighton and Alualu in the middle, the DL play has been solid overall. They still struggle to get sacks, but no one could disagree when I say the line has overachieved, and that the future is bright. Joe Cullen's job looks secure. Let's just hope he doesn't decide to go on another late-night big mac run.
Earnest Byner - Running Backs- When Pola left the team to go to Tennessee I was bumbed. I was saddened, and simply couldn't imagine getting a running back coach of his quality to replace him. When Del Rio hired Byner, essentially trading coaches with Tennessee (though Pola did leave the Tits), I had to pause and think about why I knew his name. Then I read about his NFL career and I started to get excited. He was a talented running back and has coached some great running backs. He has one of the best running backs in the league with MJD, and has done what I believe is a great job with his cast. He has a top-tier FB in Greg Jones, has helped develop Jennings into a legitimate backup for Jones-Drew, and has worked with others, including Deji Karim. He's safe, for sure.
Rob Boras - Tight Ends - When the Chicago Bears cleaned house with their offensive coaches last January, Rob was caught in the sweeping. There was a big problem there and something big had to happen, so it did. I have a feeling that he was the best position coach on their offense... but let's look at what he's done here. It was no secret to Jaguar faithful that Marcades Lewis was one of the best TEs in the league last year, and that he was a talent at the position that few in the media acknowledged. Zack Miller was a project coming out of college - a QB turned TE. He has one great game at the end of last season which left people wondering what he’d do this year. Other TEs are barely worth mentioning, as they have seen little playing time, but one thing that strikes me with all of the Jaguar’s tight ends is their ability to block. There are no finesse tight ends on this team. They’ll get right in there with the big guys. And if they aren’t doing that, look out for them in the middle of the field, because they’re likely to catch anything coming their way. Lewis has has a Pro Bowl year, and we can only hope he is resigned this offseason. I trust he will be, and I also trust Rob to continue improving the position.
Russ Purnell - Special Teams Coordinator - Before coming the the Jaguars, I had heard of Russ Prunell. Why? Well, the folks over at Stampede Blue had a petition to fire him. So, when he was signed I was a little disappointed. Why sign a guy the fans of the team he was on were wanting fired? I forgot, of course, that I was talking about Stampede Blue.
The year before he was signed (2008), the Jaguars special teams was ranked 21st by Football outsiders. While I don’t always agree with their rankings, I do pretty much agree with what they come up with for special teams. In 2009, his first year, the Jaguars dropped to 25th in those same ranking. A little disconcerting... however, in the off season the Jaguars picked up some key players that would help move those rankings up to 5th (currently) in 2010. Kassim Osgood, a Pro Bowl special teamer in San Diego, was added as a WR and to boost our special teams. Boy, did he ever. There have been many plays that I can recall where he was the key to great field position or preventing disaster. Deji Karim and Scotty McGee were added as returners, and though McGee went on the IR, the return game has indeed improved. Russ has done a great job with this unit, and it is currently one of the best in the NFL. He’s safe.
Note, too, that in Russ Purnell’s last year with Indy the team ranked 24th. Then they petitioned for his removal. Since then they have ranked: 20th (2009) and 30 (2010). So, do you think it was the coach or the players that needed changing?
Mel Tucker - Defensive Coordinator - 28th and 31st. Those are the two numbers that come to mind when thinking of the Jaguar’s defense the last two years - their rankings. Under Mike Smith, from 2003 until 2007 the Jaguars fell out of the top 10 in total defense (according to Football Outsiders) once (15th, 2007). Since then the defense has not been able to get past the 24th rank. While this can be blamed on age and lack of talent/poor drafting, someone still has to be blamed.
Mel is in likely the most dangerous position of any of the coaching staff, in my opinion. While he there has been storied horrible play at safety and a restructuring on the defensive line, being the coordinator of the 28th and 31st ranks in defense two years in a row is not a formula to keeping your job. While the defense will likely improve with additions to the safety positions which are undoubtedly coming, the play of this team’s defense simply will not do. Mel came in being hailed as a brilliant DB coach, one who could change bad play on the backside... and yet, that is where the team is the worst.
I feel that despite the lack of talent in some positions, Mel will be taking a large portion of blame this offseason and is the coach on this team in the hottest seat.
I’ll make a note here about an assistant coach, Cory Undlin: Defensive Backs - While it is not Cory's fault that the DBs have been shuffled, mixed up and shuffled again and he has very little talent at the safety position, someone might need to take a fall for one of the worst passing defenses in the league, and it could be him
Dirk Koetter - Offensive Coordinator - Since his joining the team in 2007, the Jaguars have never ranked below 17th in offensive efficiency (FootballOutsiders). They have ranked in the top 5 once (3rd). His offenses are consistently in the top of the league in 3rd down efficiency, yards per carry and fewest giveaways (though that might change after this year). In that time span he has worked is a couple of great running backs, an above average quarter back (going by stats) and a group of wide receivers that... well, you know.
Dirk is likely the most questioned coach on the team besides Del Rio, despite keeping the Jaguar’s offense in the top half of the league every season he has been here. His play calling is questioned by fans every game, and he can never seem to get it right (in the eyes of some fans) during losses. I, however, have a different point of view. I feel his play calling is usually good. While the sometimes over-conservativeness bugs me, I understand why he calls the plays he does. He, in my opinion, is a coach who trusts his players. Many of his plays are simple, yet they have to be executed perfectly to succeed. I like that.
He is, I feel, safe from the butchers block, despite many fans being upset. He has done a good job in his time here, and deserves to be back next year.
Jack Del Rio - Head Coach - Oh, jeesh, I wasn’t looking forward to writing this. No matter what I put here, not everyone will agree. The camps on either side of the Jack Del Rio issue are strong and loud in some ways. I will start by saying this: I hate it when I hear fans shouting for Del Rio’s head after every loss and giving no good reason for it. Many of you know I have always supported him. I like the guy. I really do. That being said, he has done a few things that are questionable.
First and most recent was the decision to go for it on 4th down from his own side of the field against the Colts. You remember - when Jones-Drew dropped the ball? While I personally loved the call, the fact that it did not work leads to concerns for me. There have been a few more calls of that sort, but not as many that went bad.
Also, I have to note many fans who have concerns about Jack’s ability to prepare the Jaguars for games properly. "Uninspired" I heard a few times when talking about the most recent Redskins game. I’m not sure what to say about that. I don’t think I quite agree with it, but I’m just not sure. Is it the coach’s fault when players quit? Can anyone here actually say that these players have quit at all this year? I don’t think so.
Now let me go on my personal spiel. Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith have spent almost two years now working on rebuilding this team into one that will be a contender for years to come. Older, big names that had been staples to this team for years are gone, replaced by first and second year players who are on the rise. The team is clean, in more way than one. No longer are their players who sow discord in the locker room, and it has been long since I heard of a player being arrested. In year two of a rebuilding this Jaguars team is in contention for a playoff spot going into the last week of the season, and while the hope rests on Tennessee beating Indy, hope is there.
While many put most of the credit for the rebuilding of this team on Gene Smith, he is only one variable in the equation. Jack Del Rio is another variable, and he had brought these young players together in a great way. This team is indeed that - a team. You can see that every time they hit the field. Much of that rests on Del Rio.
All of the being said, one do need to take into consideration other factors. Del Rio has only had three season with 9 or more wins (out of 7 seasons, as I’m not including 2010). He has also had 3 losing seasons, and currently has a .516 win % (including this season). He produces average results according to that, and that is why many fans want him gone. They don’t want another average year. They don’t want to go up and down on the teeter-tooter. Instead, they want to go up and stay up.
The question I have to ask is this: Will this team be better under Del Rio next year? Will it improve even more? If the team gets 11 wins, will that satisfy the fans, or will it be a product of Gene Smith in their eyes? I can’t say. While I believe Del Rio’s team has overachieved this season, I do believe his fate might rely on beating Houston, or Tennessee beating Indy and the Jags beating Houston. I just don’t know. Is he safe? Certainly not. Is he in danger? I have no idea.
So, there it is. Now you know what I think... but what do you think?