One would think Peyton Manning’s neck injury would make for true competition in the AFC South, a season in which any team would have a realistic shot to win the division. Ok, well, everyone except for the Colts, but surely, the Texans, Titans with Matt Hasselbeck and a talented Jaguars team with its core group still in tact after a few years would all be competitive, right??
Well, not in Jacksonville’s case, as the Jags are 3-8, prompting management to fire Jack Del Rio in his ninth season as the team’s head coach.
On a small scale, it’s pretty bad to lose to the Texans when Matt Leinart is starting an NFL game for the first time since 2008 before an injury forced TJ Yates (or CJ, as I mistakenly referred to him for most of Sunday, because I had no clue who he was), Houston’s third string rookie quarterback to beat you.
The Jags only made the playoffs twice during Del Rio’s tenure, as the team had an overall record of 69-73 in his nine-ish seasons.
I will remember Del Rio’s time in Jacksonville for a few reasons.
1. He seemed like a nice guy and appeared to be well-liked. In the two seasons I worked for the NFL Network, I listened to A LOT of Jaguars news conferences, typing thousands and thousands of Del Rio’s words, verbatim. He had a good sense of humor, which I very much appreciated while logging interviews in a dark edit bay, day in and day out.
2. The guy had cojones. First, he told the media (before the Jags players) he was starting then-rookie Byron Leftwich instead of veteran Mark Brunell in 2003. A few years later Del Rio gave the Jags QB carousel another spin when he cut Leftwich a few days before the 2007 season and named David Garrard starter. Just five days before the 2011 season, Del Rio Leftwiched Garrard, giving him the axe. Totally wacko.
3. My best memories from the Del Rio era came in 2007 when the coach was vindicated in his decision to cut Leftwich loose as Garrard and company had a magical season. Working for NFL Network at the time, watching the rags-to-riches story of Garrard unfold was wonderful: the Jags went 11-5 and in 12 games, Garrard threw only 3 interceptions, tying an NFL record. Garrard was known for smiling under any circumstance and his teammates adored him. The Jags beat the Steelers in a thriller in the AFC wildcard game before their improbable season of success came to an end, losing to an undefeated Patriots team in the divisional round. It sure was a fun ride though, no doubt about that.
So what’s next for the Jaguars? Who knows. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert needs some serious grooming as he has struggled this year. Maurice Jones-Drew is kicking butt and deserves better than a 3-8 record.
In Del Rio’s nine seasons, the Jaguars never won the AFC South, and defensive coordinator turned interim head coach Mel Tucker won’t have the chance to change that this season.
But who knew these facts would be secondary to the fact that the day in which Del Rio is fired, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver announces he has sold the team!
(Sound of a car slamming on the breaks….) … as I’m writing this blog, Weaver held a press conference announcing the sale of the team to Illinois businessman Shahid Kahn.
Meanwhile, the team is having trouble selling tickets for its Monday Night Football game against the Chargers in Jacksonville. The Jags are one of a handful of teams who are rumored have interest in relocating to Los Angeles once the city completes construction on a new stadium. Especially given the fact that Weaver has sold the team, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the Jaguars ended up in L.A. in hopes of starting over and actually being able to sell tickets for a change.
To read more about the Jaguars ownership change, click here: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/thehuddle/post/2011/11/jaguars-owner-wayne-weaver-agrees-to-sell-team-to-shahid-khan/1