Blame it on (Del) Rio; Jaguars hire former linebacker as coach
By EDDIE PELLS, AP Sports Writer
January 17, 2003
Brimming with enthusiasm, Jack Del Rio stepped into the meeting room with Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver.
Four hours later, the 39-year-old former NFL linebacker had talked his way into a head coaching job.
``When you look a guy in the eye and the chemistry's there, you know you've got your guy,'' Weaver said Thursday, after hiring the Panthers defensive coordinator, widely considered one of the brightest young minds in the game.
Although Del Rio's coaching resume could fit on a business card, it's an impressive one indeed.
In 2000, he was linebackers coach for the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, where Ray Lewis led one of the most dominating defenses in league history. This season, Del Rio led the Panthers from dead last in the league in defense to second.
``He's what you call a shooting star in this business,'' Baltimore coach Brian Billick said.
Del Rio was a surprise candidate, but one Weaver couldn't resist after the interview with him earlier this week, at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Del Rio knew the head coaching opportunities were limited this year, and said he wasn't going to foul it up if he got a chance.
``I had done quite a bit of preparing with the hopes of being interviewed,'' he said earlier in the week.
His signature moment of 2002 came on opening day.
Pumped up when an interception by Dan Morgan sealed a 10-7 victory over the Ravens, Del Rio did more than jump up and down on the sideline, like most coaches would. He ran onto the field and jumped into the pileup with Morgan, defensive end Julius Peppers and the rest of the celebrating Panthers.
It's that kind of fire Weaver sought when he released Tom Coughlin on Dec. 30 and went searching for a new coach.
Weaver wanted someone who could win back the locker room, reconnect with the community and help boost ticket sales. The Jaguars averaged 56,277 fans this season, down more than 11,000 from 1999, when the team made the AFC title game.
So excited is Weaver about showing off his new coach, he decided to make Del Rio's introductory news conference a public event. He'll hold it at the stadium in Jacksonville at 6 p.m. Friday, and is inviting fans to attend.
``I think he really wants the community to meet him and embrace him and make it a welcoming event,'' Jaguars spokesman Dan Edwards said.
Soon, Del Rio will be joined by a new personnel executive. Phil Savage, college scouting coordinator for the Ravens, is the shoo-in to get the job over the weekend.
When he fired Coughlin, Weaver initially said he wanted someone who has head coaching experience. Del Rio doesn't, but the owner also said he would consider anyone who impressed him enough in an interview.
Del Rio will certainly be a commanding presence on the sideline. He played 11 seasons with New Orleans, Kansas City, Dallas and Minnesota, and made the Pro Bowl in 1994.
He retired after the 1995 season, and went almost straight from the field to coaching. He spent 1997-98 with the New Orleans Saints and the next three seasons with the Ravens. He was with Billick and the Ravens as linebackers coach during their run to the 2001 Super Bowl.
Del Rio will be the second-youngest coach in the league, just behind Jon Gruden.
Pairing Del Rio with Savage, a 37-year-old draft expert, the Jaguars will have one of the youngest front offices in the league.
They've got their work cut out for them. The team went 7-9, 6-10 and 6-10 over the last three seasons and is in the middle of a rebuilding process that could take another year or two.
They must build through the draft more than free agency, and Savage is an expert on college personnel.