In what may be one of his final acts as majority owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Wayne Weaver fired head coach Jack Del Rio early Tuesday morning.
The Jaguars are 3-8 heading into a Monday night game with the San Diego Chargers, and Weaver had said at the beginning of the year that if Del Rio didn't get them into the playoffs this year, it would be his last coaching the team.
"I told Jack I appreciated the nine years that he served the organization ... but I said we deserve better. The community deserves better," Weaver said at the beginning of a noon news conference. "We've been very average over the last few years. I take responsibility for a lot of that -- making some mistakes in some personnel things."
Saying he wasn't "going to leave Jack twisting in the wind," Weaver said the timing was right to make this change because of his other big announcement Tuesday: the sale of 100 percent of the Jaguars to Pakistani-American entrepreneur Shahid Khan.
Weaver said NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell had given verbal approval to the sale, but it is also subject to the approval of the NFL owners' finance committee.
Weaver said he has known Khan for a long time and the new owner is planning to buy a home in Jacksonville and is committed to keeping the team in town.
Del Rio was the second head coach in the team's 17-year history, replacing Tom Coughlin in 2003. He finishes his Jacksonville career with a 68-70 record, last leading the Jaguars to a winning record in 2007 when the team was 11-5.
Jaguars performance under different head coaches:
|Tom Coughlin||Jack Del Rio|
When Channel 4's Jason Law caught up with Del Rio at his Atlantic Beach home at midday Tuesday, he choked up when talking about a final meeting with the players after getting the news from Weaver early in the morning.
"I told them that they need to continue to do that right things," Del Rio said. "There's something worthwhile there."
Del Rio said he was certainly aware of the speculation that he would be let go, but he remained optimistic.
"Anytime the owner makes a statement like, 'You better be in the playoffs or else,' and then you end up starting the year the way we started, it was tough," Del Rio said. "I'm disappointed that we weren't able to deliver on that desire. Certainly it was a desire of mine."
Del Rio said he had no idea the team was being sold.
"I'm a little surprised, really. Whenever I've asked Wayne directly, he's always said to me that he intends to keep the team here and be the owner."
Del Rio said it's too soon to think about what the future holds, but that Jacksonville is a great place to raise kids and he has no immediate plans to leave.
Defensive coordinator named interim coach
Weaver announced that Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker's outstanding performance this year earned him the spot as the Jaguars' interim head coach. Weaver said he promised Tucker would also have a shot at keeping the job, but promised Jaguars fans the team would "make sure we bring in someone that can build the franchise."
At a news conference one hour after Weaver announced his appointment, Tucker wished Del Rio "nothing but the very best."
"There are things that we''ll change, but things have happened really quickly," Tucker said. "We have five games to go out here and put a brand of football out here we can be proud of."
Weaver also announced Tuesday a three-year extension to General Manager Gene Smith's contract, saying that will be necessary to provide stability to the team during the other transitions.
In a news conference in January, Weaver made it clear that his head coach would need to get the Jaguars to postseason in 2011 to keep his job.
"If we're not in the playoffs, it's pretty apparent we'll have a different coach," Weaver said. [Full story on Weaver's Jan. 4, 2011 news conference]
Channel 4 sports director Sam Kouvaris said Weaver didn't feel he could wait until the season ended to make the change.
"The only time you would get rid of a coach in the season is if you felt that he lost the team," Kouvaris said. "In the locker room after the game on Sunday, I didn't get the feeling there was a lot of support of Jack among the players. And I've felt here in the last couple of years that there has been less support from the assistant coaches. And once that happens, the owner, Wayne Weaver, has got to make a move."
In addition to Tucker, Kouvaris said two other members of the existing coaching staff might be considered as head coach: linebackers coach Mark Duffner, who was the head coach at Maryland, and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who was a head coach in the Pac 10 and has been a candidate for a couple of NFL head coaching jobs.
Kouvaris also mentioned Jeff Fisher, former Titans head coach, and ex-Steelers coach Bill Cowher as likely candidates for the job.
"I think he's got to hire somebody that people would be excited about, who they would be enthused about, would buy tickets to go see," Kouvaris said. "That person has to come in here and wow people as a personality and really be a part of the Jacksonville community."
Players react to coaching change
Coming out of a team meeting, the players said they had nothing but respect for Del Rio.
"We have a lot of respect for him -- a great guy; a great coach," Linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We'll continue on, continue to fight and finish out the season the best way we know how."
Others said the team feels like it let Del Rio down.
"He's the guy that gave me my shot to play in this league -- a guy we played as hard as we could for," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said about Del Rio. "Obviously we, as players, didn't do a good enough job to keep him here."
Tight end Zach Miller agreed, saying the whole team deserves the blame for the team's performance this year.
"To pin that on him and for him take the fall for it, you know, I think all of us probably feel bad for that," Miller said. "I feel bad for him and for us. He'll move on and I think he'll be a good coach."
Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert said Tucker's message to the team Tuesday helped him put things in perspective.
"Coach Tuck said 'You can control what you can control,' and that coming here, staying late, working hard, getting better at practice," Gabbert said. "Everything else that's going on ... it's going to affect your life, but you can't worry about it."
Tucker wasted little time knowing what they should worry about.
"At our team meeting, he told us to go out that and do two things -- play with love and discipline -- and live with the result," tight end Marcedes Lewis said.