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Thursday, January 16, 2003
Updated: March 31, 12:09 PM ET
Coordinator Del Rio replaces Coughlin in Jax

By Chris Mortensen and Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

The Jacksonville Jaguars are finalizing contract details with Jack Del Rio and will name the Panthers defensive coordinator as their new head coach Friday at a 6 p.m. ET news conference.

Del Rio agreed to a five-year contract that is worth $1.2 million-$1.3 million annually.

The former NFL middle linebacker, interviewed Tuesday by Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver, succeeds Tom Coughlin, who was fired the day after the regular season ended. Coughlin had been the Jaguars' only head coach since 18 months before their first game in 1995.

Thurs., Jan. 16
When we played together, not only at USC but also with the Vikings, I remember telling someone that someday Jack Del Rio would be an NFL head coach because, as a middle linebacker, he was so bright and understood everything that was going on. Now it has happened for him, and he's earned it.

Jack has been around championship-caliber teams. He took the Carolina defense, which didn't have much, and made it into the league's second-best unit. He probably got more out of less than any coordinator in the league.

Players respect him because he played -- and played well. Jack understands football's ups and downs because he has been through every single one of them. He's not an egomaniac or self-promoter. He got the job based on his ability. Jack has enough confidence to carry a team and let them know what he expects, but he'll also let his coaches coach.

There will be a different feeling around Jacksonville, but the city should be excited because Jack is young and enthusiastic. He's going to be a great head coach.

Weaver interviewed at least five candidates: Del Rio, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, University of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and LSU coach Nick Saban.

Green and Ferentz both withdrew their names from consideration, while sought-after Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops declined to interview for the position. Saban, who quietly met with Weaver last Friday in Louisiana for about eight hours, never took his name out of the running because he never acknowledged the interview.

But a source close to Saban told ESPN.com that Saban was never a serious candidate.

Weaver began the search indicating he wanted someone with previous head coach experience. But the search turned relatively quickly to assistant coaches at the NFL level.

"Shame on me if I'm not flexible enough in my thinking as I go through the process to adjust and process information and say, 'Hey, I might be leaving out some (quality) candidates because I accept these ground rules for myself,' " Weaver told the Florida Times-Union.

The Jags are also expected to have a deal in place for Baltimore Ravens scouting director Phil Savage, who worked with Del Rio in Baltimore, as their new general manager in time for Friday's news conference. Savage gave Del Rio a strong recommendation when he interviewed with Weaver and Jags vice president Paul Vance on Saturday.

Del Rio also got a strong recommendation from former Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson.

Del Rio, 39, will be the second-youngest coach in the league, just a few months older than Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden. Del Rio has been a coordinator for only one season and an NFL assistant for only six. He began his coaching career with New Orleans in 1997, then moved to the Baltimore in 1999 before being hired by new Carolina head coach John Fox last year.

If Del Rio teams with Savage, a 37-year-old draft expert, the Jaguars would 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 are in the middle of a rebuilding process that could take another year or two.

But it is hard to ignore the turnaround Del Rio enacted in Carolina, where he inherited a defense that statistically ranked 32nd (last) in the league in 2001 and rose all the way to No. 2 in 2002.

Del Rio played 11 seasons with New Orleans (1985-86), Kansas City (1987-88), Dallas (1989-91) and Minnesota (1992-95), and was a Pro Bowl selection in 1994. During his career he had 1,078 tackles and, between 1989 and 1994, Del Rio started more than 100 straight games.

Chris Mortensen covers the NFL for ESPN. Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and The Associated Press also was included in this report.