JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jack Del Rio has already peeked at the teams Jacksonville will face in 2011. Several players stood out:
"We better be improved," Del Rio said.
If not, Del Rio will be looking for another job. Team owner Wayne Weaver decided Monday to give Del Rio another year with the small-market franchise. Weaver also stripped the coach of his role as defensive play-caller and made it clear that if the Jaguars don't make the postseason Del Rio and his staff will be fired.
"We're going to set the bar high and reach for it and demand of ourselves and commit and do all those things," Del Rio said during his season-ending news conference Tuesday. "That's what I expect. I expect us to be challenging and playing this time of year, and so I don't back away from that at all."
But taking into account Jacksonville's woeful defense, its quarterback situation and its potentially daunting schedule, some wonder whether the coach has been set up for failure. After all, the defense allowed a franchise-record 419 points this season and the Jaguars (8-8) lost five games by at least 17 points.
And considering that four victories could have gone the other way — Jacksonville won on a 59-yard field goal, a desperation pass, a 75-yard screen pass and a 65-yard kickoff return — there are legitimate questions about how close the team is to making the postseason.
"We had so many explosive plays allowed this year it's alarming and it's something we're going to have to give a lot attention to and we're going to have to fix," Del Rio said.
Del Rio said straightening out the secondary is his No. 1 priority. It remains to be seen who will be around to help him.
Weaver did not extend the contracts of Del Rio's assistants, meaning they will be coaching next season under one-year deals. With less job security than normal in the NFL, Del Rio said he will give them permission to seek positions elsewhere "for what's best for themselves and their family."
"They have to do that," Del Rio said. "I will always support that, but we have a good staff and they believe in what we're doing and I think you'll see that our staff will remain intact."
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will take over the unit after essentially serving as secondary coach in 2010, a move Del Rio said he suggested to Weaver during his evaluation Monday.
Regardless, Del Rio said he was relieved when Weaver told him he was being retained.
"I believe in what we're doing," Del Rio said. "I think it was a wise decision to stay the course because I believe that we're doing things the right way."
The results say otherwise.
Only Philadelphia's Andy Reid, Tennessee's Jeff Fisher and New England's Bill Belichick have been on the job longer than Del Rio. All of those coaches have made the Super Bowl. Del Rio, meanwhile, has two postseason appearances and one playoff victory.
That looked like it might change this season, but the Jaguars blew a chance to clinch the AFC South at Indianapolis on Dec. 19 and ended with a three-game losing streak.
Del Rio, 66-65 with the Jaguars, is the first coach since the NFL merger in 1970 to lead the same team for eight years without winning a division title.
"I can assure you everybody wants more," Del Rio said. "You want more, fans want more, Mr. Weaver wants more, our players and our coaches want more. What I want is a ring. I've had the privilege of putting one on my finger. I'd like to get more. ... This is really not about survival. This is about winning, it's about winning championships and we're committed to doing things the right way."
Del Rio pointed out several things the Jaguars did better this season: running the ball, red-zone scoring, special teams play and pressuring quarterbacks. He even lauded David Garrard, who set the franchise record for touchdown passes (23) in a season despite missing three games.
Del Rio also seemingly took a shot at Garrard.
"I think we've maybe not been aggressive enough bringing in talent at that position to groom and to challenge," Del Rio said.
Weaver said Monday the team plans to draft a quarterback in April. Most of the teams on Jacksonville's 2011 schedule already have franchise quarterbacks in place, making the slate an eye-opener for a coach who will have win-or-else pressure.
"It's a tough one," Del Rio said.