We've heard plenty about the insufferable ways of hard-edged coaches like Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, but the firing of Jack Del Rio Tuesday brings an unexpected defense of draconian tactics.
And that defense comes in the voice of Mr. Jaguar, retired running back Fred Taylor.
"With Coughlin, if you came in, if you overstep, you're screwed," says Taylor, who played for Coughlin in Jacksonville from his rookie year in 1998 until the coach was let go in 2002. "With Jack, you never knew what you were getting. You don’t know if you’ll get a hard-ass one day, a buddy-buddy one day. You never really knew."
Del Rio was a nice change of pace for the former Gators great, but then the so-called players' coach wore thin.
"He was able to take care of the players somewhat," Taylor says. "After that, after the next five years, it was a lot of gray area, which later in my career I didn't buy into."
Asked if he felt Del Rio played favorites, Taylor doesn't hesitate.
"[Expletive] yeah. Hell yeah," he says. "Why do you think I'm not there?
"There wasn't any falloff in my production. I expressed my willingness to take a paycut. I just wanted to be there and be a part of the community. I wanted to finish my career there. Just because we had this new running back. All we had to do was switch roles. 'Fred, Maurice [Jones-Drew] is going to be the starter.' Fine, no problem. I wasn't a virus in the locker room. I worked my ass off -- everything."
Instead, Taylor moved on after 10 years in Jacksonville to New England, where he finished his playing career before ceremonially retiring as a Jaguar before this season. Playing for the famously grouchy Belichick didn't make Taylor miss Del Rio's ways. Not hardly.
"Ninety percent of my enjoyment in New England was due to Coach Belichick -- the respect he demanded," Taylor says. "If you were the vet or the first-year guy, he yelled at you the same, chewed you out the same. Same thing with Coach Coughlin."
With Del Rio, Taylor says, "there was a lot of gray area." That came through most on the offensive side of the ball, where the Jaguars often struggled.
"At the end of the day, [Del Rio]'s not a head coach," Taylor says. "He's a great defensive coach. But he's not a head coach."
Del Rio's quarterback decisions were rarely cut-and-dried. He got rid of Byron Leftwich in favor of David Garrard only days before the regular season opener in 2007, but then he cut Garrard only days before the start of this season.
"Pulling that trigger was a bit premature," Taylor says. "If you make that decision, make it a month out. Quite honestly, that kind of thing can ruin careers."
Garrard had back surgery and hasn't played this season, and the Jags are not in the playoff hunt. Blaine Gabbert was pulled in Sunday's game against the Texans in favor of veteran Luke McCown. "You're 3-8," says Taylor. "Take him out and that is going to establish the season?"
Coughlin was known -- and is known -- for squeezing every last drop out of the talent on his squad. That's how he brought an expansion team to two AFC Championship games in Jacksonville. You'd think that act would grate over time, and maybe it does. But Coughlin has won a Super Bowl in New York and Del Rio is now out of work. That speaks a lot louder to players than anything else.
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