As a player, Jack Del Rio was motivated by the Wally Pipp-Lou Gehrig story; a day off may cost you your job.
"I remember playing for Tony Dungy and hearing the story about Wally Pipp," Del Rio told reporters at a press conference this evening.
Del Rio's 11-year playing career was a tribute to his competitiveness. When he took the job of head coach of the Jaguars, he talked about being ultra-competitive as a Little League player. Competition is at the core of his personality, and he decided to instill the same in his first Jaguars team this summer.
He made that point most aggressively with the most popular and identifiable player in the franchise's history, quarterback Mark Brunell. During a time that begged for a vote of confidence, Del Rio would only say that the "best 53" will make the team and the "best 11" will play.
"I understand," Del Rio said of Brunell's disdain for the treatment he experienced this past week, when he endured a daily regimen of trade rumors and cut talk, all the while Del Rio resisted making a confirmation that Brunell would be the starting quarterback on opening day. It was a proclamation that didn't come until immediately following Thursday night's preseason finale, when Del Rio all of a sudden volunteered what Brunell had waited a week to hear.
"That was our plan. We're happy with the result," Del Rio said. "I have not been anything but brutally honest in this whole process."
Brunell did a slow, controlled burn during postgame interviews. After eight years of being the only true starting quarterback this franchise has ever known, he expected to be treated more respectfully.
But Del Rio holds firm to his emphasis on competition, and he wants his players to know nobody's job is ever guaranteed.
"I'm not interested in having a carousel at every position, but we will continually expect performance in our guys who are playing," Del Rio said.
He could've taken the easy way out. He could've cut Brunell, installed rookie Byron Leftwich as the starting quarterback and moved on in a rebuilding campaign; short-term pain for long-term gain. And, in so doing, he might've bought himself more time; a free pass for his rookie season as head coach.
Instead, Del Rio has accepted a lot of pressure by retaining expensive veteran players such as Brunell, Jimmy Smith, Kyle Brady, etc. With high salaries come expectations. Del Rio's competitive nature forbids him to take the easy route.
"That's the only way I know. I said I'm going to be myself. I believe in what we're doing here. We're going to stay the course," Del Rio said.
"It's a new staff. I thought it was important we take our look and form our own opinions," he said of evaluating the talent on this team. And that evaluation did not exclude Brunell.
"I think the league is too competitive to ever toss it in; you know, 'We can't compete this year.' I said from the start we're going to be as competitive as we can be, with an eye toward the future," Del Rio added.
Now, he's a little more than a week away from his NFL coaching debut. This year will not be a "free" pass. He could've chosen that route, but he opted to pursue winning and the pressure that goes with it.
"You can look at it that way. I would feel that regardless. I'm going to put pressure on myself to be the best we can be. My focus has always been on making this team the best I can," he said. "What we are going to do is pick the best players, put them on the field and demand excellence. In our estimation, Mark gives us the best chance to win.
"As leader of this team, I assure you I will keep a firm grip on the rudder," Del Rio said.