When he sat Monday morning in the meeting to review videotape of the Jacksonville Jaguars' latest defeat, to the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon, Mel Tucker was merely a second mate on a ship taking on water fast.
Less than 24 hours later, the onetime defensive coordinator was the guy ordering the motley crew where to position the bilge pumps.
Not that it matters how much water the Jaguars manage to bail between now and the merciful end of the 2011 season, because Tucker, who was appointed as the team's interim coach on Tuesday morning in the wake of Jack Del Rio's dismissal, isn't returning as the head coach in 2012 anyway.
It is, inheriting an interim head coach position, the definition of a "thankless task." In fact, that's the verbatim, two-word characterization of the job once offered by a man who should know. Longtime NFL assistant Rick Venturi compiled a record of 2-17 in two stints as an NFL interim head coach -- with Indianapolis in 1991 (replacing Ron Meyer) and New Orleans in '96 (for Jim Mora) -- and his loyalty in assuming both of the unenviable positions wasn't rewarded with a full-time gig the following season.
Odds are that Tucker's won't be any less thankless, either.
Since 1970, there had been 59 interim coaches in the league, before Tucker was tabbed to finish out the Jaguars' disastrous season. Of that group, just 21, a little more than one-third, retained the position for the following season. Those numbers were bolstered slightly by the fact that two of the three interim coaches from last season, Jason Garrett of Dallas and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier, landed the jobs full-time for this year. But the pair certainly bucked the odds and Tucker probably won't be as lucky.
Even before the announcement by Jags' charter owner Wayne Weaver that he is selling the franchise to Shahid Khan, a pending transaction made subsequent to the Del Rio dismissal, Tucker was essentially a five-game caretaker. Had Weaver opted to keep the team, he would have been seeking out a guy with a thicker file than the one Tucker possessed (and that's hardly meant derisively toward Tucker, who is reputed to be a pretty sharp guy), to help create some buzz around the franchise. The sale to Khan, who actually had a 2010 agreement to purchase the Rams from the estate of the late Georgia Frontiere before Stan Kroenke exercised an option to buy the outstanding shares, actually seals Tucker's fate.
A businessman who compiled his fortune selling automobile parts, Khan will want a new engine powering the Jaguars, not a rebuilt one.
Other writers on Tuesday morning offered unsolicited advice for Tucker in approaching the final five games of this lost season. We've got some humble yet more pragmatic counsel, too, for Tucker: Update the resume.
When the Jaguars hired Del Rio in 2003, he had never been a head coach at any level of the game, never even been a defensive coordinator. The Jaguars, whose problems in staying financially viable and publicly relevant in one of the NFL's small markets had been obvious the past several years, aren't apt to bring in a guy with no NFL head coaching experience again. Not if Khan wants to be able to market the club to a dubious fan base in a city that remains more a college football town.
As for Del Rio, just 68-74 in nearly nine full seasons with the team, well, he was a good man whose aloof and off-putting demeanor never made him very popular in the Jacksonville area. Del Rio sometimes coached the way he played linebacker for 11 seasons in the league, instinctively, and with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. In the New Age NFL, he was a bit of a throwback, as demonstrated by his homage to some of the great coaches of the past, when he wore a suit on the sideline.
Like all coaches who get fired, though, Del Rio didn't win enough, never claiming a division title, and securing only two wild card berths in nine seasons. Early in the season, The Sports Xchange offered a column suggesting that the injury to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis actually put Del Rio and Gary Kubiak of Houston in some jeopardy if they couldn't best the Colts in the AFC South without Indianapolis having its most signature player.
Well, Del Rio is gone now, and Kubiak, while leading the division, will be forced to take the Texans to their first-ever playoff berth with a third-string quarterback.
Give Del Rio, no matter grudgingly, credit for not playing things safe. In a season when he knew he had to win, with Weaver having mandated improvement over the team's 8-8 record from 2011, Del Rio jettisoned starting quarterback David Garrard only five days before the start of the campaign. Just two games in the season, he elevated rookie quarterback and first-rounder Blaine Gabbert to the starting post, knowing it might cost him his job.
So, essentially, Del Rio developed Gabbert for his successor.
In 2007, Del Rio released then-starter Byron Leftwich just eight days before the beginning of that season, going with Garrard instead.
In both cases, Del Rio employed the words "a lot of soul-searching" to describe the unusual moves.
It's a term that Tucker might want to file away for not-too-future use. No matter how much soul the Jaguars demonstrate in the final five games of the season, Tucker almost certainly will be searching for a new job shortly after the finale.
The task he took on Tuesday morning is a thankless one, indeed.
Odds Are Stacked Against Tucker
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