Jags liked Del Rio, but why not Lewis?

ON THE NFL

Pro Football

January 19, 2003|By Ken Murray

Marvin Lewis beat Jack Del Rio to a head coaching job in the NFL, but only by a day.

In what loosely could be called the whims of ownership, it was two years after his Ravens defense ravaged the rest of the league that Lewis got a team to call his own. Whether the Cincinnati Bengals prove to be a team worth having is another matter.

Del Rio, linebackers coach under Lewis on that great Ravens defense, agreed to become coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, about 24 hours after Lewis worked out his deal with Cincinnati.

What's wrong with this picture?

Lewis coached in the NFL 11 years, including six as a defensive coordinator, and was rejected for three other coaching jobs before the hapless Bengals anointed him their new leader. Del Rio, an NFL assistant six years and a coordinator for one, hit the jackpot his first time out.

The issue here isn't Del Rio, though. It's the hiring process in the NFL. It's the race issue. The newly appointed diversity committee can raise all the red flags it wants, but it can't make ownership hire a black man like Lewis. It can't even make Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver take a look at him, even though Weaver was willing to hire Lewis' white subordinate.

Del Rio did a great job in his one season as coordinator with the Carolina Panthers, elevating the league's worst defense to second best. The Panthers, as Del Rio was quick to admit when he took the job, did not have the worst talent on defense, just the worst results. Adding Julius Peppers, Del Rio brought that talent out.

But was he more prepared to become a head coach than Lewis, who brought the Ravens from the dregs of the NFL to domination? Why didn't Weaver look at Lewis while he was considering another minority, Dennis Green, even as coaching candidates were bailing out on Jacksonville left and right?

The Jaguars never considered Lewis. They only considered Del Rio after Phil Savage, the Ravens' director of college scouting, led Weaver to him. Weaver, by the way, began his search looking for a man with head coaching experience.

All of which is to say that hiring a coach is a flawed process, totally dependent on the whims of ownership. Just ask deposed San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, who rebuilt the 49ers and then got shoved out the door last week.

Unfair advantage?

Pittsburgh Steelers president Dan Rooney is in favor of eliminating byes from the playoffs. Since the league went to the 12-team playoff format in 1990, teams with a first-round bye have gone 43-9 in their first game, an overwhelming advantage. This year, the bye teams went 4-0.

"Every team that had the bye won and every [non-bye] team but us got blown out," Rooney said. "We can take that solace, but still it's a loss. The bye is a tremendous advantage to a team. We should definitely look at it."

The problem is that to eliminate byes, the league would need to add teams, and Rooney doesn't want to do that.

Draft talk

Trade talk about this year's draft is heating up. The Houston Texans have already fielded inquiries about their No. 3 pick, presumably from teams aiming for one of the top quarterbacks. The Texans had serious interest in Miami running back Willis McGahee until he tore up his knee in the Fiesta Bowl. Unless they target a can't-miss impact player, they're open to a trade.

The Chicago Bears, who pick fourth, are in the quarterback market after general manager Jerry Angelo discounted Jim Miller, Chris Chandler and Henry Burris.

"We're not counting on any of our quarterbacks for the '03 season," Angelo said. "They've all had major durability concerns, and we'd be foolish to think we can count on them for the '03 season."

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