He's a supremely confident man who rose quickly through the coaching ranks and who seems to find success wherever he goes. Some people just seem to have the right stuff, and that's exactly what Wayne Weaver saw in Jack Del Rio.
So who is this man on whom the Jaguars are resting their future? We've spent an offseason having the hype of a new era in Jaguars football repeated over and over, but beyond the fact Del Rio is young, handsome and has an engaging personality, what are his true qualifications to be a head football coach in the NFL just six years after he was an assistant strength coach with the New Orleans Saints?
Let's start with this: In his only year as a coordinator, he led the Carolina Panthers defense from the worst ranking in the league to the second-best. And though it certainly helped that the Panthers made Julius Peppers the second pick of last year's draft, the transformation of Carolina's defense was largely accomplished with the same personnel -- linebacker Marc Fields and cornerback Terry Cousins were the other two newcomers -- that couldn't stop a baby carriage in 2001.
"He brought in his system from Baltimore and they believed in the system and trusted in the system and said, 'Hey, this is pretty good.' The system is an attack-style defense in which everybody has a responsibility and everyone has a gap, and they have to trust that the guy behind them is upholding his responsibility," Jaguars offensive line coach Paul Boudreau said. Boudreau was the line coach in Carolina the previous two years.
OK, so we know this much about Del Rio: He can coach defense. He has a workable plan and his players will buy into it. Moreover, he would seem to have the ability to fit people into that plan and utilize those players' abilities to their fullest, and certainly that will be a necessary factor in transforming the Jaguars' 20th-ranked defense of a year ago into something more respectable.
What does all of that mean? Well, it would seem to indicate Del Rio had a great defensive coordinator's career ahead of him, before Weaver decided to advance that career to the level of head coach. In a way, it's too bad it all happened so quickly. Del Rio the defensive coordinator may have been fun to watch for a few years.
Of course, it's not too bad for Del Rio, his wife and their four children. Life is good at the top. But what guarantee do we have Del Rio is ready and capable of staying there?
Well, he's played and worked under some big names; old-school and new-school types, such as John Robinson, Bum Phillips, Jim Mora, Frank Gansz, Jimmy Johnson, Denny Green and Brian Billick. That's an impressive collection of mentors; that has to speak for something.
But resume stuff isn't the true measure. The proof is in the observing, and Del Rio offered a credible view of himself during a trying training camp this summer. The guy held up awfully well in the face of Larry Smith's insubordination, Byron Leftwich's holdout, assorted media criticism, Jimmy Smith's drug suspension and Mark Brunell trade rumors. You could criticize Del Rio a little bit for his handling of the Brunell situation, but, it's a tough game and the coach decided to throw his weight around a little bit. You know, the Jaguars have never been accused of being the toughest team in the league.
Del Rio is not a sleep-in-the-office kind of coach, but there is an economy and efficiency of effort to his routine. Some may think him to be cocky, but his players view their coach as relaxed and confident. The guy has an air about him. He's not a call-you-down-to-the-office kind of coach, but he's not the kind of coach whose "office" you want to visit, either.
"I assure you, I will keep a firm grip on the rudder," Del Rio said.
It would seem to be his ability to lead men that is his strongest quality. Lots of coaches know all about "cover two" and "zone-blitz," but those who are true leaders of men are difficult to find. They are people who seem to know exactly when to be demanding and when to be tolerant. They command discipline without strangling their players' desire and freedom to express their talents. True leaders of men inspire their players to new personal heights, then step back and allow them the stage. That's what Del Rio did in Carolina last year.
"I leaned on some good assistant coaches and got some players to play to the best of their abilities. It was never about one person," Del Rio said of his success in Carolina. "When they trust what you believe in, good things can happen."
His success in Jacksonville will be determined by the same. When his Jaguars players buy into their head coach's "system," success will follow.
It won't be about play-calling or defensive strategies. Those are the tools of coordinators, and Del Rio is no longer a member of their ranks. Now, he is a head coach, and he will succeed or fail based on his ability to lead an entire team of men.
"We're going to reach for the stars. The commitment has been made. The players have to embrace it," Del Rio said. "They will over time. The guys who don't get it, may never get it. The important thing is that the guys we have here understand."
That's the real "scoreboard" this season, and we'll watch closely to see if the guys who are here truly "understand."