Jaguars hire Del Rio


New Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio answers questions during a news conference Friday, at Alltel Staduim in Jacksonville, Fla. Behind Del Rio are Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver and his wife, Delores Weaver.

AP Photo/Oscar Sosa
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 11:50 p.m.

Jack Del Rio began the week strolling the sidelines of a practice field in Mobile, Ala. He was scouting players at the Senior Bowl for the Carolina Panthers. He was an assistant coach. He wasn't making a million dollars. He was just another face in the crowd.

He closed the week at Alltel Stadium staring into several television cameras, media personnel, cheerleaders, a team mascot and the eyes of about 2,000 eager fans. He is a head coach. He will make a million dollars. And he is no longer just another face.

He is the face.

Del Rio, 39, was introduced as the second head coach in Jaguars history in a unique yet boisterous celebration Friday. He emerged from a list of five candidates who team owner Wayne Weaver interviewed, and he began his journey by signing a five-year deal that will pay him slightly more than $1.2 million per season. He is now in charge of a team that has won just 19 games over the past three seasons and has not made the playoffs since 1999. He replaces Tom Coughlin, who was fired Dec. 30.

"It was a bold move," Weaver told the crowd. "But it was the right move."

The jury is out on the latter part of that statement, but the former part couldn't be more true. By not hiring someone with the experience of a Steve Mariucci or a Dennis Green, Weaver certainly went out on a limb.

He brings in the second-youngest head coach in the league, one who has no prior head-coaching experience. Del Rio has six years experience as an assistant coach, and 11 years experience as a linebacker. But this undoubtedly is his greatest challenge.

"This is a new era and a new beginning," Del Rio said. "For me, I've always believed in looking forward to the future and looking onward with a positive outlook and a positive approach. That's going to be our philosophy from day one."

Del Rio will begin to lay his foundation today, when the organization is expected to announce the hiring of Phil Savage as general manager. Savage, 37, is the Baltimore Ravens college scouting director. He worked with Del Rio in Baltimore from 1999-2001. During Savage's tenure in Baltimore, the Ravens selected Miami safety Edward Reed, Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis, Florida wide receiver Travis Taylor and Louisville quarterback Chris Redman, among others.

From there, Del Rio will begin filling out his staff. Speculation is that he will once again turn to the Ravens as he starts to plug holes. Baltimore offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh is a close friend of Del Rio's, and could have the inside track on that position with the Jaguars. Ravens tight ends coach Wade Harman, who has coached the likes of Shannon Sharpe and Todd Heap in recent seasons, could also be a candidate for Del Rio's offensive coordinator.

Baltimore is also a hot spot for Del Rio's defensive coordinator position. Ravens linebackers coach Mike Smith, secondary coach Donnie Henderson and defensive line coach Rex Ryan are all possibilities.

"I do have a plan," Del Rio said. "You're going to have to believe that when we assemble a great coaching staff, when we evaluate our roster and add to that roster, when we schedule practices and meetings, and do all of the things we need to do to be effective, it's going to be the right plan. Our players, our coaches are going to believe in it, and you'll see it executed on Sundays."

Who will be doing that execution is another obstacle facing Del Rio. He has many holes on this roster as it is. There are even more expected after the free agency period begins.

Fred Taylor is about to enter the final year of his contract. Donovin Darius is about to become a free agent. The same goes for Stacey Mack. The team still needs to find an adequate No. 2 receiver to complement Jimmy Smith.

"The evaluation of our talent will come in due time," Del Rio said. "I've just given some preliminary looks and opinions, and I'm not going to share those at this time."

Then, there is the status of veteran quarterback Mark Brunell, who will turn 33 in September.

"I've heard that a lot," Del Rio said when asked about Brunell's future and the speculation surrounding him. "It's too early to say. I will say this: I consider him a very good football player.

"So we're going to look hard at the whole roster, and make decisions that we have to make in terms of who we keep, and who we try to replace. But I'm not in any hurry to get rid of Mark."

Brunell started 15 games last season as the Jaguars went 6-10. He holds virtually every franchise record for passing.

"If Jack brings the same intensity to coaching as he did on the playing field, then we're going to win some football games," Brunell said. "I think it won't take long for guys to realize that we've got a great coach.

"It's a new era and I'm looking forward to being a part of it."

As is Del Rio and Weaver and the recharged fans who packed the East Touchdown Club Friday. How long that enthusiasm lasts, however, remains to be seen.

Tim Sullivan can be reached at 374-5050 or by email at sullivt@gvillesun.com

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