Two days after last season ended, Jack Del Rio stood in front of the media and spoke of a new chapter in Jaguars football. He closed the book on a season turned ugly by Matt Jones' arrest, a horrible off-the-field incident that claimed the career of Richard Collier, and an overall sense of team discord. Then, Del Rio promised all of that would change in 2009.
Fan reaction was overwhelmingly supportive of the new demands Del Rio would put on his players. It was a year-ending press conference that had a revival-meeting quality to it and it kicked off a roster cleansing by new General Manager Gene Smith that has been cheered every step of the way.
Del Rio's "new commitment" program, however, didn't get its first real test until this past weekend, and it isn't the coach who failed, rather it is a large segment of fans that failed the test. They believe Sims-Walker should've been allowed to play. They are of the opinion that a fine would've been good enough.
Are these the same fans who cheered the get-tough policy Del Rio announced in his year-ending address? So it's OK to deactivate Brian Iwuh in Houston when he committed a team violation, but it would've been better to only fine Sims-Walker for his transgression in Seattle? After all, Sims-Walker was the team's leading receiver, its new star. Iwuh is just a backup linebacker.
Yeah, that'll work. That'll put some teeth in the coach's policy. Get tough, but only with backup players. What's the message in that? Backups need to behave; star players can do as they please.
If there was anything positive to be taken from the Jaguars' 41-0 loss in Seattle, it was that the coach's new program, which obviously has the organization's full support, was upheld. The message, therefore, is clear and firm: The rules are the same for everyone and they must be obeyed.
Had Del Rio compromised that standard, the result would've been far more damaging to this team's future than the lopsided loss it sustained. The loss will last one week. Bending the rules could've been forever.
Del Rio didn't have to do what he did. He could've swept it under the proverbial rug and we wouldn't have known anything happened. Sims-Walker would've played and maybe he would've scored a couple of touchdowns. I don't think we can say he would've recorded a couple of sacks and helped the defense lead the Jaguars to victory, but it's fair to say he would've helped the Jags avoid being shut out for the first time in five years.
So what? We're so fragile that we can't deal with a shutout?
The lasting negative effect would've been far worse. We wouldn't have known the rules were bent for Sims-Walker but the players would've known and that would've meant the end of Del Rio's "new commitment."
It would've gone something like this: A star receiver can commit a team violation and play but I'm expected to volunteer for offseason conditioning and OTA's or else? Every player on the team would've been asking that question.
Fine him? Come on, you know better than that. A fine wouldn't have sent the right message. It would've been a compromise. There was only one way to reaffirm the team-first demand of which Del Rio spoke in that year-ending press conference. Ask any player.
Del Rio did the right thing and it set an example for every young player on this team. They know, beyond a doubt, the rules are for everyone.