Jags Players Take Responsibility

A new era in Jaguars football is about to begin, and it happened one day shy of the 18th anniversary of Jacksonville being awarded an NFL franchise.

Owner Wayne Weaver announced Tuesday that he is selling the team to Illinois businessman Shahid Kahn. He also announced that he fired coach Jack Del Rio, appointed defensive coordinator Mel Tucker as the interim head coach and gave general manager Gene Smith a three-year contract extension.

That means that even with a new owner, Smith will be setting the direction of the team and will play a major role in hiring a new coach. Tucker will get an interview for the job, which will also satisfy the Rooney Rule for interviewing a minority candidate.

Del Rio's firing was no surprise with the team at 3-8. The only question is why Weaver didn't do it sooner. Weaver said he wanted to announce the sale the same day as the firing.

"There was some awkwardness. I'm going to be very honest with you," he said. "There was some awkwardness because of this decision, this conversation we're having right now. That delayed this decision. If I had fired him last week, it might have been fairer to Jack to do it last week, but then a few days later to have this kind of announcement, I think it would have been confusing."

So Weaver had made up his mind to fire Del Rio no later than after the Cleveland game but decided to wait to announce it until the sale for $760 million was completed.

Del Rio met with the players one final time after being fired.

"He said unfortunately he didn't win a championship and it was time for a change for someone (else) to have a shot and it was something he understood," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said.

Del Rio was fired with five games left in his ninth season after failing to win a division title, much less a championship. He won just one playoff game.

Del Rio finished with a 69-73 record, including a 1-2 playoff mark. He was the only coach in NFL history to survive into his ninth season without winning a division title.

Weaver said he told Del Rio the Jaguars and the community deserve better.

"We've been very average over the last few years. I take responsibility for a lot of that, making mistakes in some personnel things," Weaver said.

Weaver said Shahid is committed to keeping the team in Jacksonville although the fact he's a new owner will spark speculation that he might move the team.

In extending the contract of Smith, who had earlier turned down an extension, Weaver said, "It gives us the kind of stability that I think we need in our football operations."

Despite the record, Del Rio had formed a bond with the players.

"I've got a lot of love and respect for Jack," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "He's always shot it to me straight. He's always treated us like men. He provided us with a vision."

Running back Maurice Jones-Drew said, "When we found out this morning, a lot of guys were upset. He's a players' coach. We just feel like we let him down."

The players also insisted that being a players' coach is a positive even though a coach with that reputation is sometimes viewed as not being in command of the locker room.

"No, not at all," running back Montell Owens said when he was asked if Del Rio was too much of a players' coach. "As a coach, you should respect your players. You should wrap your arms around a guy. That's important. That's how you get the best out of guys."

Defensive end Jeremy Mincey said, "You can never really be too much of a players' coach. A lot of people think Bill Belichick is not a players' coach, but he's a players' coach. That's how you get it done. You have to have a relationship with your players. Nobody wants to play for somebody you don't respect. Respect is the first level of trust. If you've got trust, you've got a bond. You've got a bond, and now you're winning."

Mincey said he went up to Del Rio after he talked to the team and said it was an honor to play for him. However, the Jaguars didn't win enough under Del Rio, and they are now on the verge of their fourth consecutive non-playoff season.

The players were willing to take the blame for not playing better.

"I always look at it as if it's not the fault of the head coach," Posluszny said. "As players, we came up a little short."

But even Del Rio admitted Monday in what turned out to be his final press conference as Jacksonville's coach that it always comes down to the coach and the quarterback.

"I think clearly the head coach and the quarterback are the two people that are directly tied to winning and losing, and if you don't win, then those are the two people that are going to hear it the most," Del Rio said.

Blaine Gabbert is 2-7, but since he's a rookie, the Jaguars think he can still develop into a top quarterback.

Gabbert has had a topsy-turvy year, from missing the offseason because of the lockout to being thrust into the starting lineup in his third game and then being pulled last Sunday.

"It's just a very unique scenario that I've been put in, but you've just got to do your best," he said.

And while Mincey supported Del Rio, he said, "It's a new era of Jaguars football. New ownership. New everything. Sometimes change is better. Nothing stays the same in life. The only constant in life is change."

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