I recently had the opportunity thanks to SchooloftheLegends.com, to talk to former Jaguars safety Donovin Darius. Darius played in nine seasons with the Jaguars between the years 1998-2006, starting in all of the 115 games he played in with the team. As a Jaguar, he accumulated 376 tackles, two sacks and 14 interceptions.
How are you doing and what have you been doing post-football?
Things are going well. One of the things I often say is the NFL and college was an experience and what you do after that is really your career. So I really transitioned into two things: one, I have a foundation that I work with youth, ages 8-18, on academic excellence, character, personal development and healthier lifestyles. I’ve been developing that organization and then also I’ve basically starting training at being a life coach for athletes. I work with them in the transitional phases in their lives which is from high school to college, the athletic and mental part of that transition, answering questions and mentoring. And also from college to the NFL and/or college sports to life. I work with them in that transition as well, physically, mentally and emotionally. The last part is the transition from the game, which is just dealing with guys that are in the NFL as they’re transitioning out. You know, just giving them the practical steps that prepare them as they leave this game and understanding what their next calling may be, what their next area of influence may be. That’s what I’ve been doing over the last few years and I’ve been loving it. It’s not really work for me because I’ve been giving back and really pouring into people and really just preparing them for the next chapter in their lives.
SchooloftheLegends.com gave me the opportunity to talk to you. Could you explain what that is to people that are unfamiliar with the site?
Yeah SchooloftheLegends.com is a great, great kind of social media website. It’s basically a platform in which you have NFL players. If you want to go talk to NFL players you can do that. Understanding that the fraternity of NFL brothers is very small if you can have a place that’s not just a subsidy of NFL players, but actual hub where they visit frequently, where they conversate, where they interact with their fans, where they keep people up to date on current events as well as just be a role model in their lives. You’re just really spending that time giving fans and frequent visitors an opportunity to reach out and see that we’re normal people just like they are and we go through things just like everyone else does. We have the chance to enjoy the experience together. It was founded by several people, but closest to me, Kevin Carter, who is a former player, board of executive committee member on the PA [NFL Players Association], they’ve put together a great program where you can go to get all the major news on your team. And a special bonus part is that a former player and a current player get to be correspondents for the actual team. So we get a chance to talk about the upcoming game, we get to talk about the last game, success, failures whatever it is you get to hear our in-depth perspective about the game. So it’s a great site, it’s a great opportunity for both sides so I’m excited about it.You mentioned Kevin Carter and the NFLPA. You were both committee members and you had a big hand in that during your career. The new CBA was obviously a big story of this offseason, for retired players, how do you feel about the new CBA and how do you feel it set retired players up?
Well, without going too in-depth, what I wanted to do, because I was so involved through the whole process, especially with DeMaurice [Smith] and the whole lockout situation. I knew, I just had confidence, that they were going to get things done. I did not go too much into all the details of it, or even at this point, but I do know that they are trying to create an opportunity for guys to be taken care of longer than just the time they’re in the league. They’re trying to set up guys with pensions. So everything that DeMaurice Smith and the board that has helped the vets wanted him to do, those are the things that I’m confident that he went forward and tried to get done. So understanding that there’s a compromise and the meeting of both parties I’m sure that they’ve done a good job just trying to find a fair deal. I think everybody, current and former players, will all benefit.
On SchooloftheLegends, obviously you talk about the Jaguars often. They had a strong start, they won their first game. Now they’re on a three game skid and they’re at 1-3. So what do you think the problem is and how do they go about fixing it?
Well, I mean, leadership is always key. An organization can only go as far as the influence of its leader. I think Coach Del Rio, he’s trying to do a good job with what they have, of course any time an organization doesn’t do well, you always look at the head coach. Knowing Coach Del Rio, he’s constantly assessing what he can do better. I think when you lose a team leader like David Garrard, in a way that you lose a guy like that, right before the first game of the season, and the lockout during the offseason, it really throws a wrench into the chemistry of the team as a whole. The defense, I mean nobody wins when the team loses, but the defense has been trying to hold up their end of the bargain. But you need the continuity and that chemistry on the offense and I think having a new guy in there, even though that’s what you get paid to do, it really just doesn’t give you the chemistry you’re looking to have. Hopefully, they can bounce back from it, but when you have a change in guard, a change in general, and you really have to understand how they throw, how they think, there’s a learning curve to that. So I think some of that is attributed to the leadership change.
Do you disagree with the move then? Would you say that the Jaguars made a mistake in releasing David Garrard that late?
No, well I was a guy that was released in June and went through free agency. One of the things I always share with guys is, the NFL is a business. They’re going to make their business decision and they don’t ask you if you agree with it or not. So I’ll stick with the same position, what I think of this move, like it or not, it doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is, and most importantly to me, is how this affects the game. How are they setting themselves up to maximize their opportunity while they’re playing and beyond the playing field. I don’t have a position whether it’s a good move or a bad move. I just know that they made it and as players you have to adjust.
You mentioned the defense playing well. The defense has played much better than they have probably over the last three seasons. What do you think they’re doing in particular that’s better than in years past?
Well I think any time you have a number of years under a system, you have the continuity of a coach, a defensive scheme, guys are understanding what to expect. I think a couple key additions they made this offseason, the middle linebacker, he’s the heart and soul. Landry at safety, the last line of defense. All of those things are very key. The upfront defensive line, they’re working together. They also have a couple different guys on that team that are making an impact as coaches. A former teammate of mine, Paul Spicer, he’s working with the team now in his first year. You have to understand when you have that type of experience, that type of understanding of the game, especially as a coach, and you have a direct connection with that type of mentorship and tutelage then you have nothing but an opportunity to grow. So the addition of Paul Spicer, really solidified the defensive line. The additions in free agency really helped solidify some of the key areas of the defense as well.
They did add a couple of safeties and that seems to have made a big difference. When you played safety you were always known for being the hard-hitting safety. But today that seems like a dying breed with the new rule changes. The kickoff is just one of the rule changes where they’re now protecting players more. How do you feel about these changes?
Well I can speak on that because I was a part of the competition committee meetings a couple times. I think some times in their efforts to try and protect player safety they actually take away from the integrity of the game. From the very basic fundamentals of the game, there’s just throwing, blocking, catching and there’s tackling. And there are techniques to all of them to be efficient. When you take tackling as an example, you have to see what you hit. You have to put your head where you need your target to go. Otherwise your body is going to go with your head and so when you’re putting your head to the side, you have more of a chance at arm injuries and shoulder injuries. So what are guys doing now? They’re just not even doing that period. Sometimes they’re just lunging. They’re just trying to hit low and hopefully take you out. Why? Because in the game, there’s an intimidation factor that should be there, because there is a guy coming in your territory, then that’s taken away from you. So being an efficient fundamentalist can actually cost you a lot of money. So it’s kind of a catch 22 thing and it’s amazing because they’re trying protect on one hand, but at the same time the integrity of the game is really suffering.
The next three weeks the Jaguars play some strong defenses and they’re some pretty hard-hitting defenses. What do the Jaguars have to do offensively to get themselves going?
Of course they always say run the ball, but when you have a guy like Maurice Jones-Drew teams are going to put eight men in the box. Opposing teams know there’s a rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, is in there. So they’re going to give him everything. They’re going to disguise, they’re going to blitz him, they’re going to put him under pressure. And you have to remember, prior to him joining the team, he did not have a lot of time with his receivers. So the chemistry, the timing routes, one the things that makes Drew Brees so successful, and I had the chance to rehab with him when we were doing in Birmingham, Alabama, was that he knew his players. He knew where they were going to be and he threw to spots. He built such a great chemistry that with his eyes closed he knew where his guys were supposed to be. And if they were not there he had the authority and the jurisdiction, if you will, to correct that. So when you have a young quarterback like Gabbert, that only comes through time. Unfortunately you only have 16 games and you don’t have an offseason or OTA’s. So I think, to answer your question, they have to get the passing game going. They have to get into rhythms so they can get that eighth man out of the box and put a threat up the field. Basically just work the field with passing and right now they don’t really have that. Teams know that they’re trying to build confidence in the quarterback. So how do build confidence? You give him little short passes, little flare passes, little curls, little slants, but you don’t put him over the middle in a third and eight because it might get picked off. You don’t go up the field up top with go routes or post routes two plays in a row, why? Because you don’t want third and 10. So I think to get things going they have to build a team with some functioning ability in the passing game or teams are going to just load to box.
You’ve talked about leadership a lot. You played under Coughlin, I think for four years and you played under Del Rio for four years. Can you kind of compare the two coaches?
Yeah well Coach Coughlin, you have to understand that he was in essence the general, the colonel, chief, everything. He was the general manager, the head coach and the offensive coordinator. So he took upon himself, basically the pressure of everything. So the organization either succeeded or failed by every decision that he made. When somebody has that much control and they have that much responsibility, they can have their hand in everything. That’s what we did and I think that’s why the Jaguars were so successful, because of his leadership ability. [inaudible]. We were able to give him exactly what he wanted based on his vision. That’s why he was very successful. I think Jack coming in after Coach Coughlin, he was kind of a change of pace. You hear people using the terminology, calling him a player’s coach. Well all that meant to me, and I enjoyed playing under both coaches and I enjoyed playing under Jack as well, is that what he tried to do, as a player you understood the emphasis of teamsmanship. To be a good team, you’re accountable to the coaches. But a great team is accountable to the players. Each other and one another. So what Jack sought to instill was that accountability. He wanted them to be accountable to the actual players. So on the team back in 2005 and 2006, we went through several changes. A lot of players, a lot of core players changed. With that being said, those players you’re looking for to lead, are no longer there. I think that’s some of the bigger differences.
Del Rio is taking a lot of heat right now. A lot of fans want him out, just for a fresh start more than anything else. Do you understand where they’re coming from?
Of course. Any organization that isn’t doing well is based off of leadership. So that’s the first position to go. The perceived leader on any NFL team is the head coach. It doesn’t matter how much you say, well this guy missed a tackle, this guy missed a pass, the fans will say, well get a new guy in there, that’s your decision. So people are looking at the failures of the Jaguars as leadership decisions. The failure to come together and get on the same page. So I can see that. That’s why the NFL is "Not For Long." It’s the same as an individual player, when he’s not performing to his abilities or getting up there in age, they’re going to try to get somebody else. So the stakes are maximized and sometimes your success is minimized. It’s not any different for a head coach than it is for a Xerox or a Fedex company. When the numbers are down, the sales are down, the wins are down, we have to replace the somebody or the head coach.
To see more of Darius's perspective on the Jaguars and the NFL head over to his page on SchooloftheLegends.com where he and current Jaguars CB Drew Coleman frequently post videos offering their analysis.