Del Rio staying in Jacksonville amid USC reports
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After conducting his most extensive review in 15 years, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver decided to stick with coach Jack Del Rio.
At least for another year.
Weaver held a half-day meeting with Del Rio on Tuesday, then said the two would continue their rebuilding project with the Jaguars.
“I believe in Jack, that’s he’s the guy,” Weaver said two days before his 75th birthday. “After going through this process, Jack is the guy that can get us there. The fans have to have enough trust in me to believe that I’m making the right decision for the franchise.”
The announcement came amid reports that Del Rio was a candidate to succeed Pete Carroll at Southern California. Carroll left USC to become the Seattle Seahawks coach. The L.A. Daily News reported Monday that Del Rio, an All-American linebacker for the Trojans in 1984, had been sent a contract to sign.
“Didn’t even talk about that,” Weaver said. “I wasn’t interested in that. I was interested in if Jack wanted to be here and was committed to this franchise and that he shared my vision and my goals for this franchise and how we go forward. That was the substance of the conversations.”
Del Rio said early Tuesday that he had not been offered the USC job, but declined to address the media following his meeting with Weaver. The owner, however, said, “I assure you he’s not going to Southern Cal.”
Instead, Del Rio will try to get the Jaguars to the postseason for just the third time in the last 11 years.
Jacksonville looked like it was on track for a playoff berth in 2009, but the team lost its final four games, faded from contention and finished last in the AFC South for the second straight season. It was a significant setback for a small-market franchise known more for empty seats than postseason prowess.
Many Jaguars fans have expressed frustration with Del Rio, who is 58-57 in seven seasons and has just one playoff victory.
But Weaver blamed the team’s recent struggles on a series of first-round draft busts and poor free-agent signings.
“Over the past seven years, we’ve had our ups and down and we’ve been an average football team,” Weaver said. “We’ve had some good seasons, but if you look at the body of work, we’ve been average. … Had we hit on two or three of those draft choices, we’d be a different football team than we are today. I have to accept responsibility for that.”
Weaver cleaned house last year, parting ways with several veterans and turning control over to new general manager Gene Smith. He kept Del Rio, though, and said he was confident he would turn things around.
Smith and Del Rio took an aggressive approach to revamping the roster. Four rookies started most of the season, and several more played significant snaps.
The result was a 7-5 start that had Jacksonville in line for a wild-card spot. The losing streak ended all the team’s postseason chances.
Weaver acknowledged that he never expected to reach the playoffs with more than 30 new faces on the roster, but made it clear that Jacksonville should be a playoff contender in 2010.
“My expectations are that we’re going to be better than average and we’re going to be competing for the playoffs – not just for next year, but for years to come,” Weaver said. “If you do it the right way, there’s no reason that you can’t compete for the playoffs every year, and I think we’ve got the team in place.”
Weaver also said money had nothing to do with his decision to keep Del Rio. The coach just completed the first year of a contract extension and would be owed nearly $16 million if fired – a huge payout for a team that blacked out nine of 10 home games because of slumping ticket sales.
“Money is never a factor,” Weaver said. “It’s a lot of money. I’m not going to say it’s not, but money is not a factor. I want to win. I want one of those rings.”
And he believes Del Rio can help him get one.
“The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result,” Weaver said. “I don’t think we’re at that point.
“We know there’s things we have to do differently and things we have to do a lot better than we have in the past, and I think we’re all on the same page and have our sights on the same goals. I’m excited about where we’re going with this football team.”