ALAMEDA – Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was in Jacksonville longer than any stop in his athletic career. Del Rio the football player was never in one place longer than four seasons. He was Jaguars head coach for nearly nine years, a position he held for most of his 40s.
Del Rio considers it a time of tremendous growth, especially in his current profession.
Sunday’s game will be his first in Jacksonville since he was let go, though Del Rio says emotion won’t overpower.
“I’ve been in this league a long time, so I’ve gone back to a few places before. It’s not the first time going back to places where I’ve been,” Del Rio said Wednesday. “I think I’ll be okay.”
Del Rio had good times and bad in Jacksonville. He had three winning seasons and two playoff appearances. The Jaguars have been terrible since he was fired following a 3-8 start to 2011.
Things didn’t ended well for Del Rio in Jacksonville. When a head coach moves on, they rarely do.
Del Rio holds no ill will towards the Jaguars. He’s thankful former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver gave him the opportunity to become a first time head coach.
Weaver wanted someone with head coaching experience to replace Tom Coughlin. Del Rio won him over in the interview.
"I saw a bright light, a bright eye . . . a guy who was very organized, very detailed and full of confidence," Weaver said in 2003, via the Florida Times-Union.
Del Rio overcame a lack of experience with preparation. He brought a book full of plans for what he would do as Jaguars head coach, a comprehensive overview of how to bring Jacksonville back to prominence.
"Jack brought in a book this thick," Weaver said, holding his hands about 6 inches apart, via the Florida Times-Union. "It had every process, from building a staff to evaluating the roster to offseason conditioning, free agency, the draft, training camp . . . all of it."
Del Rio still has that book. It contains great information learned from mentors Brian Billick and John Fox while preparing to be a head coach.
“I credit Brian a lot for that organizational structure that I had and then John Fox,” Del Rio said. “He was the one that introduced me to putting all of that information into the book and rather than being power point or something because you’d be able to have that face to face with the owner.”
Experience has taught Del Rio so much more since then. He believes he’s a better head coach than he was before, especially reflection during three seasons as Denver defensive coordinator.
Del Rio comes back to Jacksonville leading a a 4-2 Raiders team on the rise. He’s found that there are some things not in the book.
“When you first get an opportunity to sit in this head coach seat, the amount of volume that you have to deal with, the decisions that you have to make, I don’t know that you’re really prepared for it until you get in there and start doing it,” Del Rio said. “I’ve gained an incredible amount of insight into what it takes in this profession. I feel much more prepared, obviously, having nine years of experience there and four games in Denver as the interim (head coach) and a year and a half here.
“Certainly, that experience, being in that chair and making decisions, running the staff, running the team, organizing practice, the way you travel, all the things that we do that lead up, the process that I talk about, the process of being a good team, all of it entails really, it starts with the head coach.”
Del Rio will be the opposing head coach on Sunday, and believes he’ll be received as all opponents are. That could bring some boos. He’ll be fine with it. There are few who know Del Rio then and now, though Raiders free safety Reggie Nelson is one.
The former Jaguar wouldn’t compare Del Rio's past and present, but said he wants to win in Del Rio’s return.
“It’s going to be exciting for him,” Nelson said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll put on a show. We know what’s at stake. It’s going to be a good game.”