AFC South: Mark Asanovich
Want to alter a team's culture without changing the head coach?
The best avenue might just be through the team's strength coach, the one assistant who deals with everyone on the roster with some regularity throughout the NFL year.
In Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio recently hired a new man for the job, Luke Richesson. In Houston, Gary Kubiak still has an opening at the spot.
|Denny Medley/US Presswire|
|Jack Del Rio hopes a new strength and conditioning coach will help turn things around for the Jags.|
Gone from the Jaguars' staff is Mark Asanovich, said to be a steady and uncompromising personality. Gone from the Texans' staff is Dan Riley, a stronger presence some categorize as cantankerous.
With open offices, Del Rio and Kubiak had a chance to be sold on a different kind of training regimen and decide what sort of approach might work best for their rosters. But they also had a chance to gauge personalities and the ability of a new assistant to buy into the team's philosophy and to be an effective disciple of it.
"Those guys probably spend as much time, if not more time, with your players than you do," Kubiak said. "I know they are with players a great deal of time from the standpoint of being in the weight room doing their work. Then when they are not with us in meetings or in practice, that's usually the first place players go. The mentality of your football team and a lot of those work habits are developed down there in that atmosphere."
In Richesson and the Houston hire -- which rumblings suggest could be Ray Wright, a Riley assistant who remains on staff -- the Jags and Texans hope they'll have a coach who players come to consider both a resource and a model.
Richesson joined the Jaguars from Athletes' Performance, a company that trains college players looking to post great workout numbers at the league's annual scouting combine. Indications are he may not have been the Jaguars first choice, but Del Rio is confident he will be a difference maker. (When teams don't get their first choice, I'm always compelled to remind people how far basketball coach Roy Williams was down the list before he got the job at Kansas and how well that turned out.)
Richesson's biggest challenge may be broadening his repertoire in a way that embraces a more diverse pool of athletes. At Athletes' Performance, his focus was narrow -- elite college athletes were sent to him by agents looking to boost draft status. In the Jaguars' locker room, he'll deal with veterans and rookies with more established routines, some of whom are emboldened by status or paychecks.
Jack Del Rio and his staff will take the Senior Bowl South team onto the practice field in Mobile, Ala., today.
Those coaches get a week of work with some top prospects. Those top prospects get a week of work with some NFL coaches.
The thing is, Del Rio's staff is thinned out.
Since the end of a disastrous 5-11 season, Del Rio has lost six coaches
- Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams completed a one-year deal and took the same post in New Orleans.
- Special teams coach Joe DeCamillis jumped to the same post in Dallas.
- Strength and conditioning coach Mark Asanovich was dismissed.
- Assistant strength and conditioning coach Les Ebert was dismissed.
- Defensive assistant Tom Williams left to become head coach at Yale.
- Assistant wide receivers coach Robert Prince became receivers coach in Seattle.
I'm sure he planned an efficient way for his 11 assistants to handle the college kids they will be working with this week. It will be harder for him to duck coaches trying to get five minutes of his time or a resume into his hand.
Mobile is sad that way this week -- it amounts to an unemployed coaches' convention.
A lot of head coaches don't show face at practices and try to avoid the prime hotel lobbies there until their staffs are filled. As one of the game's coaches, Del Rio won't be able to maintain as low a profile. He's probably going to interview some people while he is in Mobile. He's going to shake the hands and have conversations with a lot of job seekers who claim some sort of connection as well.
Coach Jack Del Rio tried to point the finger at himself at his season-ending review of the Jaguars miserable season. But a coach who has often changed up his staff is likely to do so again and his opening comments, the part of his press conference where he was sending his message, sounded to me like it passed too much blame.
Here's the piece I am talking about:
"We went into the year with high expectations and didn't realize those expectations, really didn't even come close to it. On the whole the year was unacceptable. It was disappointing and we're all accountable. Certainly accountability is something I believe in and it has to start with me. I think it's very important that we learn lessons from this past year; that we continue to improve, that we recognize some of the places where we came up short. I myself recognize the need to do a much better job with my staff, and we as a staff need to do a much better job with our players in maximizing the ability our players have and putting out a much better product. I feel like we left some things out there in 2008. It's up to me to lead the way, show this organization the vision that I have for us getting things back in order and getting back to the postseason, which is what I'm hired to do is to get this team into the postseason, get us back to the postseason in 2009 where we can contend for a world championship. I think for me, for us, there's really a need for us to get back to the true identity of who we are as a football team. I believe in smart, tough football. I believe in having a physical football team. I believe in having a team that can stop the opponent from running the ball and that can hassle the quarterback and harass the quarterback. I believe in having a locker room full of unselfish players, a staff of unselfish coaches, and that together we can accomplish great things. I don't believe we had enough of that togetherness and unselfishness this year, and it's something that I very much want us to get back to and am very determined to see that that is the case."
He says it starts with him, then his first example is that he needs to do a better job with his staff. And he confirmed that he's dismissed Mark Asanovich and Les Ebert, his strength and conditioning coaches.
I understand a staff is an extension of a head coach, but I think if your big theme is accountability and you want to show that you are holding yourself to the same standard you have for everyone else, there is room to talk more about your own failures before saying you need to do a better job with your staff. He touched on it again, but even as he claimed ownership, what he claimed ownership of was the need to get the staff back on track.
"I think it's my responsibility to provide the direction for the staff," he said. "It's my responsibility to get them back on track if I see us getting off track, and so I take ownership in that."
I give Del Rio credit for acknowledging a lot of what led to the team's failures -- acquisitions that didn't pan out, the Mike Peterson story, contract issues, chemistry problems. But he's a pretty powerful coach who had a say in those additions, knows the contract status of everyone on the roster and has to anticipate chemistry.
His comments at the press conference recognized all those issues.
"We took a swing and I guess you could say missed with a couple of the free agent acquisitions that didn't quite pan out the way we had hoped. Certainly there was the incident where Mike (Peterson) and I had a disagreement. There were some contract issues that were part of the climate that created a selfish atmosphere rather than an unselfish atmosphere. Those are not conducive to having the type of team that I desire to have here in Jacksonville. I acknowledge those are all out there, but I don't chose to dwell on that. I think they're there. They're part of the past. It's my belief that you acknowledge the things that are part of the reality, but you don't have to sit there and dwell on that forever. I think for us the most important thing is to acknowledge what they were, learn from the mistakes that have been made, and go forward with renewed energy."
They don't need to dwell on them forever, but they do need to dwell on them for a while.
You can't resolve the issues of the past merely by saying they are in the past. They have to be dissected and solved. Whether Del Rio has taken his share of the blame for them, I guess we'll find out as they attempt to resolve them.
Maybe I am being too nit-picky.
What do you think, Jaguars fans? Feel free to chime in with comments here or in the mailbag.