Jaguars' owner Wayne Weaver and head coach Tom Coughlin were seen on the sidelines talking intently during the final days of training camp. And for the two men most responsible for professional football in Jacksonville the list of topics for discussion could probably fill this column space on Jaguars.com. The weather has alternated between blast furnace heat and tropical downpours so perhaps the coach was lobbying for an indoor practice facility. Perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Jimmy Smith continues his contract hold-out and the passing game continued last Friday against Tampa to look as if it will also be a no show. Winn-Dixie has absolved the issue of black-outs this season which means more fans will be able to watch what Mr. Weaver has termed a 'three-hour infomercial.' There are others but like these you know them already.
The exact substance of their conversation will remain between the two men, who are trying to rebuild the winning mentality and tradition of the franchise. I would like to think that Wayne and Tom were taking another good hard look at the big picture for this year's squad as training camp was coming to an end.
After an astounding, amazing, A effort in the off-season to abbreviate the team's salary cap afflictions the expectations began an ascent. The infusion of talented players started almost as soon as the whistle blew on March 2nd. Wayne, Tom and new football operations chief Paul Vance executed a well-developed plan with the signings of wide receivers Pat Johnson, Bobby Shaw and guard Chris Naeole. It was an immediate upgrade for a team that was previously thought unable to get better in 2002.
They followed it up with other, lesser known players such as guards Daryl Terrell and Raleigh Roundtree, the addition of middle linebacker Wali Rainer on draft day and the return of popular tight end Pete Mitchell, whose hands are unmatched in this game. Holes that looked expansive and impassable all of a sudden looked bridgeable. A solid draft class highlighted by talented players of high character topped off the spring of reconstruction and gave way to talk of winning in 2002.
Those expectations are on shaky ground as the preseason comes to an end and the regular season lies right around the corner. Winning takes more than talent-it takes time. Time for as many as ten new starters to develop the cohesion required to practice and play for the next five months. Time is a necessity for perhaps 15 new back-ups to learn what is expected of them and to adapt to their primary role on special teams. Time must be allowed for the coaching staff, a unit itself with five new faces, to work together under the pressures of a demanding season.
Tom Coughlin will not change his expectation. He wants to win every Sunday. It can be no different for any coach in this league whose job and the jobs of his staff depend on the scoreboard. Wayne Weaver will not change his expectation. He has a difficult task to revive a fan base that has fallen dormant and nothing short of winning will bring them back as they once were. But recent comments by both men offer a confusing front to the fans who have been told to expect a winner and to be patient with a young team in a learning year.
Perhaps it's time for the two men most responsible for professional football in Jacksonville to detail their expectations. It isn't fair for anyone to expect that a team coming out of suffocating salary cap constraint to write 'New England Patriots' at the top of their goal sheet. The owner and the head coach would do a great service to professional football in Jacksonville by reminding everyone that it requires a degree of patience, that winners are not made overnight. Those Super Bowl champion Patriots were not built in one season, nor the Ravens before them or the Rams in 1999. They have shown the commitment to winning in the past and did so once again this spring, making the most difficult choices imaginable, but let's be realistic and let's be patient.
If they and you will expect a team that prepares well, plays hard and improves week by week, then you can expect a team on it's way back to being a winner. But if you expect this young team to win ten games and reclaim the division title then you can expect to be disappointed. Being a winner takes hard work. It's why Coughlin works so many hours and pushes his team to do the same. But even the most successful expansion coach in NFL history can't do anything about time.