Now that the NFL regular season is over, the hand-wringing, speculation and rumors over the fates of Bucs coach Jon Gruden and Jags coach Jack Del Rio will go into overdrive.
But let’s hope the owners of both teams take a deep breath before they do anything rash.
More often than not jettisoning a head coach doesn’t fix a team’s problems. Sometimes it just makes it worse as the team transitions to a new offense, new defense, etc. etc.
Let’s just put two names in the mix: Tom Coughlin and Tony Dungy. Coughlin and Dungy have won the last Super Bowls for their current teams. But both coaches were unceremoniously forced out the door at Jacksonville and Tampa Bay despite their record of success for the two teams.
You would think that the Glazer family and Wayne Weaver would remember their own bit of history before they start down the same path this time.
It could be argued that Dungy was too nice to get his Bucs players to take that extra step, but I think his record with the Colts disproves that. The Bucs won with defense, while the Colts win with offense. Dungy has shown that he can win regardless of the talent level around him. Coughlin, by contrast, likes to do things a certain way. But his undoing in Jacksonville had more to do with a disastrous series of personnel moves that put the team up against the salary cap.
Gruden, of course, lacks charm but he was able to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl title back in 2003. That has been forgotten, however, as Tampa Bay continues to suffer meltdowns in December. On Sunday, the team had a shot for the playoffs but somehow managed to lose to the lowly Oakland Raiders. The Bucs lost the last four games of the season to end 9-7.
One of the arguments being used against Gruden is his constant quarterback shuffling.
Any sportswriter, however, who makes that point just isn’t watching enough NFL games. MOST teams in the league lack a true, bonafide, consistent quarterback. Anyone who thinks that the Bucs could have won 9 or 10 games with Chris Sims or some other cast-off is fooling themselves.
Jeff Garcia the last two years has made a difference. There’s a reason that the Tennessee Titans handed the ball this season to Kerry Collins. Their young quarterback Vince Young just couldn’t get the job done. Gruden’s complex offense needs a smart poised quarterback in order for it to succeed.
Jacksonville’s problems this season aren’t all Del Rio’s fault. Losing two offensive lineman at the start of the season was a killer blow. And a series of once again questionable moves, like signing Jerry Porter, also contributed to the team’s demise. The Jaguars have already announced that the team’s vice president of player personnel James “Shack” Harris has resigned. The departure of Harris may be a sign that Del Rio will get one more season to turn things around.
The one thing, however, that could be used against Del Rio is his handling of the team this year, including a now-infamous blow-up with one of his star linebacker. If Del Rio has lost control of the team then it may be time to close this chapter of the Jaguars franchise.
But at the end of the day it comes down to the players, not the coaches. It was the aging Bucs defense that got ripped for nearly a thousand yards rushing in the closing month of the season. It was the Jags offense that lacked playmakers who could stretch opposing defenses.
And changing coaches will do little to fix that problem.