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Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Harris resigns as Jags' head of player personnel

Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- James "Shack" Harris' first personnel move set the tone for his tenure in Jacksonville. His last two sealed his fate.

Harris resigned as the team's personnel chief Tuesday, taking the fall for a franchise that flopped this season and avoiding what might have been an embarrassing return to Baltimore this weekend.

"With the way we played last year and then coming back this year and having a below-average season, I didn't think it was going to go as far as Shack, but it has," defensive end Paul Spicer said. "It's affected a lot of guys, a lot of lives, a lot of families. A lot of people's lives have been changed."

Coach Jack Del Rio already told strength and conditioning coach Mark Asanovich he would not return for a seventh season, likely the scapegoat for all of Jacksonville's injury problems in 2008. Veteran guards Tutan Reyes and Charles Spencer were waived Monday. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis could be gone, too.

Other changes could come after the season finale.

Harris didn't even make it that far. His departure was somewhat expected, especially considering sub-par performances from high-priced free agents Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence. But many believed it would happen next week.

Harris might have wanted to avoid the trip to Baltimore. The first black quarterback in NFL history to start a season opener, Harris was the Ravens' pro personnel director for six seasons and helped Baltimore win the 2001 Super Bowl. He didn't have nearly as much success in Jacksonville.

His first major move was a failure, like many others. Harris signed aging defensive end Hugh Douglas to a five-year deal that included $5 million guaranteed in 2003. Douglas played one season, finished with 31 tackles and 3½ sacks, and was cut the following year.

Harris also talked Del Rio into drafting quarterback Byron Leftwich in the first round a few months later, even though the team had Mark Brunell and David Garrard. Del Rio wanted defensive end Terrell Suggs, but the Jaguars ended up taking Leftwich.

Jacksonville cut Leftwich just days before the 2007 season, parting ways after four frustrating, injury-filled seasons.

Although Harris never had the title of general manager, he got all the blame for failed personnel decisions, even though Del Rio played a role in every roster move.

Other first-round draft picks during Harris' tenure included receivers Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, tight end Marcedes Lewis, safety Reggie Nelson and defensive end Derrick Harvey. The Jaguars had more success with second-round picks -- cornerback Rashean Mathis, linebacker Daryl Smith, fullback Greg Jones and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. But only one of Harris' draft picks -- Mathis in 2006 -- made a Pro Bowl.

"This is a real turnaround business, and really, the blame is placed somewhere," tight end George Wrighster said.

Harris' final strike may have been signing Porter and Florence. The Jaguars (5-10) paid $23 million guaranteed to have those two free agents step into starting roles.

Porter missed all of training camp and the preseason following surgery to repair a torn hamstring. He started six games, but finished the season on injured reserve with a groin injury. He had 11 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown -- nearly $1 million a reception.

Florence, meanwhile, struggled all season in zone coverage and was relegated mostly to playing in nickel and dime situations.

Del Rio was reluctant to address Harris' departure, saying only that he was excited to move forward with his replacement, Gene Smith. Smith previously served as Jacksonville's executive director of college and pro personnel.

Harris, Smith and Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver were not available for comment Tuesday.

"I can't really find the right words to describe Shack leaving," Spicer said. "I'll be just like a lot of guys in this locker room: 'Why would he leave?' Did he quit? Did he resign? Did he get let go?

"They've got a lot they let go around here. Now, Shack's locker is cleaned out. It's unfortunate, but I think Shack's going to bounce back. He's been around this game a long time, has a lot of good friends in this league. It's not about what you do, but who you know. I'm sure he's going to be OK."