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Real wins are what count


In 1996, Tom Coughlin led the Jaguars to a seven-game winning streak that put the second-year team in the AFC title game. For that masterful bit of coaching Coughlin nearly won coach of the year honors. Ironically, at 4-7 fans were starting to call for Coughlin's head.

Well, that's the nature of the business. It's a tough game. Coaches know that. If it's patience you require, you're looking in the wrong place.

Yes, it's a scoreboard business, but can we please wait until the regular season before we start keeping score?

Maybe it's the fantasy football mania that has everyone wound so tight. Or maybe we're just not happy if we're not complaining. Probably we just don't have anything better to do with our time. Whatever it is, fan and media criticism in recent years has developed a regular-season intensity in the preseason.

Shouldn't we be above this? Do we really have to win in the preseason, too? Are we that fragile that we can't ever lose?

"Fans are hungry," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said when asked about the intense scrutiny teams and coaches find themselves facing in the preseason now. "They want to see it and they want to see it right now," he added.

That seems to be especially true in Jacksonville. It's not that the fans don't get it, because they do. It's just that the passion for winning, and winning with style, too, seems to be rather acute for a game that's little more than a glorified scrimmage.

"When New England lost to us 31-0 (in the 2004 preseason), I don't think there was a lot of apprehension," Del Rio said.

You remember that game, don't you? Bill Belichick benched all 22 of his starters. Rohan Davey was the Patriots' starting quarterback, the same guy Belichick just cut.

It was a miserable effort by the coach and his team. Belichick made a mockery of whatever illusion of integrity the game possessed. He literally devalued the league's preseason product.

Patriots fans and media, however, offered no complaint. Was it because they're superior fans? No, that's not it. They didn't complain because they had a Super Bowl champion that was the favorite to win another one, and they agreed with Belichick's decision to rest his starters for the start of the real season.

Jacksonville fans would like to have that kind of confidence about the Jaguars. Jaguars fans want reason to believe their team can be a Super Bowl contender this year, and they'd like the preseason to legitimize those hopes. Unfortunately, coaches aren't willing to cooperate. They don't get paid for producing hope; they get paid for producing wins, real wins.

"When we cut our team, then it's the regular season and we'll be ready to go. We're not trying to game-plan right now. We're trying to evaluate our roster," Del Rio said.

Somewhere between the fans' need for proof and the coaches' need to prove nothing, rational thought must prevail. It's just the preseason. Say that out loud 10 times. It helps.

"Fans can be fans and enjoy the ups and downs. Fans be fans and coaches be coaches," Del Rio said, exercising his own understanding of each side's point of view. "As a coach, I can't get caught up in it."

This will pass. Try to relax. It's just the preseason. Give the coaches a free pass for just one more week. Then, if you don't like what you see after week one of the regular season, let it rip.

Patience ends with the preseason, right?

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