Jaguars sack Jack Del Rio, will sell team

Updated: November 30, 2011, 4:07 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars are headed in a completely new direction.

And Los Angeles doesn't appear to be the destination.

Team owner Wayne Weaver fired longtime coach Jack Del Rio on Tuesday after a 3-8 start and agreed to sell the Jaguars to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan. Weaver named defensive coordinator Mel Tucker the interim coach and gave general manager Gene Smith a three-year contract extension, putting him in charge of the coaching search.

Tucker has been told he will get a chance to interview for the full-time job, Weaver said.

The moves marked the most significant changes for the small-market franchise since its inception in 1993.

"It's the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons," Weaver said. "We deserve better; the community deserves better. We've been very average over the last few years. I take responsibility for a lot of that, making mistakes in some personnel things, but look positive ahead that this team is not far away from being a very competitive football team."

League sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen the sale is worth between $750 and $800 million.

The 77-year-old Weaver had been looking for an "exit strategy" for years, wanting to find someone to buy the team and keep it in Jacksonville. He had tears in his eyes several times as he announced his impending departure.

"It's a little bittersweet, honestly, that it came as soon as it did," Weaver said. "But the main motivation for the exit strategy was to find someone that has the same passion about the NFL, had the same passion about football in Jacksonville as we do, and I found that person."

Khan, 61, believes he is the right choice.

"Wayne's legacy will be lasting, and I will always be grateful for Wayne's trust and confidence in my commitment to the Jaguars, the NFL and the people of the Jacksonville community," Khan said in a statement.

Born in Pakistan, Khan left home at age 16 to attend the University of Illinois. He graduated in 1971, a year after he started working for Flex-N-Gate Corp. in Urbana, Ill. He purchased the company in 1980. Today, Flex-N-Gate is a major manufacturer of bumper systems for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles built in North America.

"He's going to buy a home here in Jacksonville. He's going to spend time here in Jacksonville," Weaver said of Khan. "He's going to keep the Jaguars management group intact. He's keeping the Jaguars staff intact. He has a great admiration for what we've been able to accomplish here and the way we run our business here so he's keeping all that intact."

While Weaver is confident Khan will keep the team in Jacksonville, there is nothing written in the deal which obligates Khan to do that. Weaver's confidence stems from assurances Khan has made to him personally and the fact that the Jaguars' lease to play at EverBank Field runs through the 2029 season. If the Jaguars wanted to leave before the end of the deal, the lease requires the team to prove they had lost money in three consecutive seasons or to convince a local judge that the city was failing to properly maintain the stadium.

"It's pretty hard to put something in writing saying you have to do something but you have to trust individuals' integrity and I have no doubt that Shahid is going to do what he plans to do," Weaver said. "I had to be comfortable that his plan was to keep the team in Jacksonville. There's not a doubt in my mind that this team will be in Jacksonville."

Khan tried to purchase controlling interest in the St. Louis Rams last year.

His purchase of the Jaguars is subject to NFL approval. League owners will vote to ratify the deal Dec. 14, and if it passes, would become official Jan. 4.

The Jaguars could have a new coach in place before then.

"There's a lot of good things that will happen in the future," Smith said.

Del Rio's job security had been tenuous since Weaver said the coach needed to make the playoffs to secure a 10th season in Jacksonville. The Jaguars were essentially eliminated with Sunday's 20-13 loss to AFC South-leading Houston.

"It's the nature of the beast," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "Change is good sometimes. Obviously, it's an unfortunate situation. ... This is the NFL and unfortunate things happen sometimes."

The timing of the move made sense since the Jaguars are struggling to sell tickets and host a Monday night game against San Diego. The team needs to sell about 9,000 tickets to avoid a local television blackout for a prime-time game.

Making a coaching change could boost sales.

Del Rio leaves with a 69-73 record, including 1-2 in two playoffs appearances. The Jaguars didn't win the AFC South in any of his nine seasons.

Weaver gave Del Rio a four-year extension worth $21 million after Jacksonville won a playoff game following the 2007 season. The team stumbled to a 5-11 finish the following season, and Weaver overhauled the roster but decided to keep Del Rio.

Weaver considered firing Del Rio again after last season, but kept him partly because of the uncertainty surrounding the NFL lockout. Weaver refused to give contract extensions to any of Del Rio's assistants, putting everyone on alert that this was a win-or-else season.

Del Rio told The Associated Press in a text message that his family was "blessed with nine good years" in Jacksonville.

Fans would disagree.

They will remember Del Rio's tenure as one that lasted too long and was filled with quarterback chaos, inconsistency, staff turnover and late-season collapses. There also was the decision to place an ax and a wooden stump in the locker room to remind players to "keep chopping wood." It backfired miserably when punter Chris Hanson accidentally hacked into his leg and was placed on injured reserve.

This season, Del Rio released veteran quarterback David Garrard five days before the season opener, then benched journeyman Luke McCown after two games. He turned things over to rookie Blaine Gabbert, who has panicked under pressure, misfired on short throws and shown little progress in nine starts.

Del Rio also botched quarterback decisions involving Mark Brunell and Byron Leftwich in 2003, and Leftwich and Garrard in 2007.

Equally troubling, Del Rio showed a penchant for throwing players and assistants under the bus. Del Rio fired 19 assistant coaches during his tenure, creating enough tension that could make it tough for him to get another job in the league.

The Jaguars owe Del Rio about $5.6 million for the final year of his contract.

Del Rio met with Weaver early Tuesday and then held one final team meeting.

"He just said that he's spent a lot of time here, obviously devoted a lot of time and energy here, but it was unfortunate that he wasn't able to win a championship," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "So it was time for a change, time for someone else to have a shot.

"I don't know what else can top a day like this."

Del Rio told a Jacksonville TV station that he tried to remain optimistic despite constant speculation that his job was in jeopardy.

"Anytime the owner makes a statement like, 'You better be in the playoffs or else,' and then you end up starting the year the way we started, it was tough," Del Rio told WJXT-TV. "It's tough, but we never gave into that. Players have never given into that. I think when you look at the way the team is fighting and competing, I think we really should be proud of that."

Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Arash Markazi and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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