For a few more days, Wayne Weaver is officially the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars. On January 4, he will relinquish all of his ownership rights and privileges to Shahid Khan, so that has brought him to think about some of his regrets along the way. I’m sure with it being New Year’s Eve also conjures up some memories and decisions that he wished he had done differently.
Weaver says that his biggest regret may be firing former head coach Tom Coughlin, who was the first coach of the expansion Jaguars back in 1995 when Weaver finally was able to realize his dream of bringing an NFL franchise into the best league in the world. In just their second season in the league, Coughlin helped the Jags reach the AFC Championship game.
Coughlin went on to suffer three straight losing seasons in Jacksonville, leading to his dismissal after eight seasons and a record of 72-64 (including 4-4 in the postseason). He led the Jaguars to two conference championship games, but could not get the team to the Super Bowl. The rest, as they say, is history, as Coughlin was hired by the New York Giants and was able to lead the team to a Super Bowl victory over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots.
Back in 2002, when Weaver decided to fire Coughlin and go in a different direction, he said that ”There’s a point in this business where you have to say, ‘We need innovative new ideas, new fresh approaches and we have to move in a different direction.”
Apparently, Weaver felt as if Jack Del Rio was just the innovator that the team needed. On November 29 of this past year, Weaver fired Del Rio in his ninth season as the team’s head coach. It was the same day that Weaver announced the completion of the team’s sale to Khan. Del Rio finished his tenure in Jacksonville with a record 69-73. He never led the team to the conference title game.
”When the show doesn’t sell out on Broadway for three years in a row, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going to happen,” defensive coordinator John Pease said.
Well, clearly attendance had nothing to do with Coughlin. The team has struggled with attendance for years, finishing toward the bottom of the league in overall numbers for many years now.
Maybe they actually should have drafted Tim Tebow after all. He may have put a few people in the seats.
Now Coughlin is not known as a players’ coach. He wasn’t at Boston College, he wasn’t in Jacksonville, and he isn’t in New York. He consistently gets named as the coach who players would least like to play for in the NFL today. But Weaver still regrets his decision to fire Coughlin almost a decade ago.
“Look at the first eight years with (then-head coach) Tom Coughlin. It was our most successful time, but we didn’t do everything right and I learned a lot from him. …
“If hindsight you could change, I’ll be honest with you: I probably would have never changed Coughlin,” the 76-year-old Weaver said. “I would have tried to have Tom take a step back and just be the coach. I thought about it, but I didn’t think Tom would do it. I thought Tom’s pride would never allow him to take a step back and me take the general manager’s position.
“My three short list names I had narrowed it down to were (Mike) Shanahan, (Tony) Dungy and Tom,” Weaver said. “I hired Tom because I felt he was more autocratic and I felt that not knowing anything about this business I needed somebody where I could say, ‘You set the stage here. You build the platform we have to build this franchise around.’ I felt he would be the best guy to do it and as it turned out, he was the best guy to do it. We had tremendous success. Our draft choices were probably better than the average team at the time. That was Tom’s work ethic. He was very involved and he was a good evaluator. He held people accountable to develop those players.”
Weaver can look back now and see that the team enjoyed great success for an expansion club under Coughlin. They reached the playoffs in four of the team’s first five seasons. On his way out the door, Weaver told Khan what he needs to do to get the team to the next level.
“What you have to do is draft well and get the right coach. That’s what I said to him.”
Maybe he also needs to tell him to hold onto the right head coach, provided you can find him and convince him to stay in Jacksonville in front of far less than sold out crowds.