The Jacksonville Jaguars were looking for a coach who could relate to the players and put fans back in the seats. They hired Jack Del Rio, a whirlwind of a guy who once played linebacker in the NFL and sometimes looks like he wishes he still did.
Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver made the Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator the second coach in team history Thursday, team spokesman Dan Edwards said.
The 39-year-old Del Rio is considered one of the brightest young minds in the league. He'll be the second-youngest coach in the NFL, just behind Jon Gruden.
Del Rio was a surprise candidate, but one Weaver couldn't resist after a four-hour interview with him earlier this week, at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
''When you look a guy in the eye and the chemistry's there, you know you've got your guy,'' Weaver told WJXT-TV in Jacksonville.
In Del Rio's single season as coordinator for the Panthers, he helped them improve from 31st in the league to second in defense.
His signature moment, however, came on opening day.
Pumped up when an interception by Dan Morgan sealed a 10-7 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Del Rio did more than jump up and down on the sideline, like most coaches would. He ran onto the field and jumped into the pileup with Morgan, defensive end Julius Peppers and the rest of the celebrating Panthers.
It's that kind of fire Weaver sought when he released Tom Coughlin on Dec. 30 and went searching for a new coach.
Weaver wanted someone who could win back the locker room, reconnect with the community and help boost ticket sales. The Jaguars averaged 56,277 fans this season, down more than 11,000 from 1999, when the team made the AFC title game.
''He's what you call a shooting star in this business,'' Baltimore coach Brian Billick said.
So excited is Weaver about showing off his new coach, he decided to make Del Rio's introductory news conference a public event. He'll hold it at the stadium in Jacksonville at 6 p.m. Friday, and is inviting fans to attend.
''I think he really wants the community to meet him and embrace him and make it a welcoming event,'' Edwards said.
Soon, Del Rio will be joined by a new personnel executive. Phil Savage, college scouting coordinator for the Ravens, is the shoo-in to get the job over the weekend.
When he fired Coughlin, Weaver initially said he wanted someone who has head coaching experience. Del Rio doesn't, but the owner also said he would consider anyone who impressed him enough in an interview.
Del Rio will certainly be a commanding presence on the sideline. He played 11 seasons with New Orleans, Kansas City, Dallas and Minnesota, and made the Pro Bowl in 1994.
He retired after the 1995 season, and went almost straight from the field to coaching. He spent 1997-98 with the New Orleans Saints and the next three seasons with the Ravens. He was with Billick and the Ravens as linebackers coach during their run to the 2001 Super Bowl.
Pairing Del Rio with Savage, a 37-year-old draft expert, the Jaguars will have one of the youngest front offices in the league.
They've got their work cut out for them. The team went 7-9, 6-10 and 6-10 over the last three seasons and is in the middle of a rebuilding process that could take another year or two.
They must build through the draft more than free agency, and Savage is an expert on college personnel.
Del Rio will focus on defense and probably will hire an offensive coordinator. One of his first decisions will be whether the future includes quarterback Mark Brunell, who has two years left on his contract but could be traded or released without major damage to the salary cap.
Del Rio's hire came after a three-week search in which Dennis Green, Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey were interviewed.
The Jaguars also had thought about Steve Mariucci, fired Wednesday by the 49ers. But when Mariucci showed no interest in Jacksonville, Weaver went back to Del Rio, whose knowledge and enthusiasm he admired.
''He's capable of being a head coach,'' Panthers coach John Fox said. ''He did a great job for us and he has great leadership skills.''
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