Shack Harris was the NFL's first African-American starting quarterback and later became one of the league's first African-American general managers. His historic accomplishments on the field have absolutely nothing to do with his job in the Jaguars front office, as he was in charge of putting together talent to build a winning team. The Jaguars appointed Executive Director of Scouting Gene Smith to Harris' vacant post.
"Shack, I already said that's an ownership decision," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio explained. "And decisions that we make going forward with our roster will be made, as I said, after we've evaluated. I think the one thing you can be assured of is that we're never going to settle. We're all here to get ourselves to the playoffs and compete for a championship. That's what we're here for, so everything that we do is going to be with that end result in mind."
Harris' first draft pick, quarterback Byron Leftwich flamed out in Jacksonville, and he was unceremoniously released just nine days prior to the season opener in 2007. It was reported that Harris opposed the move to release Leftwich, and that the result of that transaction would eventually cost either Harris or head coach Jack Del Rio one of their jobs. With former backup quarterback David Garrard having a stellar season in 2007 and the team advancing in the playoffs, Del Rio was lauded and received a five-year contract extension, thus giving him a majority of the power over personnel decisions.
Shack Harris' first-round draft picks for the Jaguars haven't yielded great returns, as Leftwich (2003) is no longer with the team, Reggie Williams (2004) hasn't developed into anywhere near the player he was expected to, Matt Jones (2005) was nearly released prior to putting together his best season as a pro in 2008, Marcedes Lewis (2006) hasn't nearly lived up to expectations, Reggie Nelson (2007) has regressed significantly and looks lost as an NFL safety, and the Jaguars traded up to acquire rookie Derrick Harvey (2008), who has all of 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks in his young career.
With those first-round misses came some second-round hits. Rashean Mathis (2003) has made a Pro Bowl, Greg Jones and Daryl Smith (2004) are valuable starters, Khalif Barnes (2005) is a more than serviceable left tackle, Maurice Jones-Drew (2006) is the face of the franchise, and Justin Durant (2007) looks to be a very good linebacker.
For every Hugh Douglas, Drayton Florence, and Jerry Porter the Jaguars signed, there is Mike Peterson, Brian Williams, and Reggie Hayward. The Jaguars have seemed to be both hit and miss on many of their personnel moves in the Harris/Del Rio era.
"I think if you've been in the NFL and you've covered the NFL long enough you understand that change is part of the landscape," Del Rio said. "It's constant. This is a production business and players, coaches, scouts, everything, we're always looking to find the right combination and you're always wanting to be part of that right combination. So we'll keep working at it but that's just the reality of life in this league, a very competitive league."
So returning to the original question, did "Shack" Harris deserve his dismissal? It's really hard to say. The Jaguars have been significantly outdrafted by teams like Indianapolis, San Diego, New England, and New York, but Harris' moves have clearly been better than that of perennial losers Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Oakland, and San Francisco.
"I enjoyed my relationship for six years working with "Shack," and obviously I've gotten to know Gene in the time we've been working together," Del Rio said. "I think Gene is a very sharp guy, a bright guy with a lot of energy. I appreciated the work that we had together with Shack, and looking forward to the future with Gene."
With a team that was expected to compete for an AFC title, finishing with five or six wins will usually cause some major housecleaning. The Jaguars have simply underachieved and made some bad personnel decisions which led to this year's disappointment. With Del Rio's contract extension, his dismissal was impossible, so a change had to be made. Will the Jaguars be better in the post-Harris era? Time will tell, but if they're not, Del Rio will be the next guy looking for work.
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