Cubs

A couple big changes in Jacksonville

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A couple big changes in Jacksonville

From Comcast SportsNet

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The Jacksonville Jaguars fired coach Jack Del Rio on Tuesday after a 3-8 start, parting ways with the franchises second coach during his ninth season.

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

The timing of the move made sense since the Jaguars are struggling to sell tickets and host a Monday night game against San Diego. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was named the interim coach. The team scheduled a noon news conference to discuss the move.

Del Rio leaves with a 69-73 record, including 1-2 in two playoffs appearances. The Jaguars didnt win the AFC South in any of his nine seasons.

Weaver considered firing Del Rio 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 Rios assistants, putting everyone on alert that this was a win-or-else season.

Del Rio refused to let offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and linebackers coach Mark Duffner interview for lateral positions. He couldnt stop quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, whose contract ended, and receivers coach Todd Monken, who returned to a college job at Oklahoma State, from bolting.

Given the situation, the pool of coaches wanting to come to Jacksonville was small, so Del Rio had few options while rebuilding his staff. Del Rio hinted this season that his hands were tied in terms of what he could to assemble the best staff.

Fans have been clamoring for his departure for years, with many calling for him to be fired following a 5-11 finish in 2008. Instead, Weaver parted ways with personnel chief James Shack Harris and selected Gene Smith the general manager.

Smith has rebuilt the roster over the last three years.

But the Jaguars have shown no progress under Del Rios leadership.

Del Rios tenure will be remembered for putting an ax and a wooden stump in the locker room in 2003, setting up a situation in which punter Chris Hanson hacked into his leg, and for repeatedly failing to properly handle quarterback situations.

He announced he was benching Mark Brunell and giving rookie Byron Leftwich the job in 2003 before talking to the players. He insisted Leftwich was his starter in 2007, and then cut him days before the season opener. He did the same thing to David Garrard this season, cutting him five days before the opener and naming Luke McCown the starter.

McCown was benched after two games.

The Jaguars have been inept most of the season with Blaine Gabbert under center. The 10th overall pick in Aprils NFL draft has been rattled under pressure, has been inaccurate on short throws and doesnt appear to be making much progress.

Del Rio said Monday he was sticking with the rookie.

It turned out to be the coachs final decision in Jacksonville.

Another new boss

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)The Jacksonville Jaguars have reached an agreement to sell the small-market franchise to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan.

Majority owner Wayne Weaver made the announcement Tuesday, hours after he fired coach Jack Del Rio and gave general manager Gene Smith a three-year contract extension. He said Khan will have 100 percent control of the team.

Weaver called Khan a great American success story and said the Pakistan-born entrepreneur will keep the team in Jacksonville.

Khan is the owner and CEO of the Flex-N-Gate Group based in Urbana, Ill. Khan had been a candidate to buy controlling interest in the St. Louis Rams last year.

The sale of the franchise and the firing of Del Rio are the citys most significant news since the teams inception in 1993.

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

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USA Today

Jason Kipnis comes home looking to write one final chapter of his career

Jason Kipnis, who’s potentially the Cubs’ new second baseman but indisputably the pride of Northbrook, said there’s one major reason why his possible reunion with Wrigley Field is so exciting.

“Now I don’t have to hate the 'Go Cubs Go' song,” he quipped.

Kipnis was a late addition to the Cubs’ roster, and still not even a guaranteed one at that. After almost a decade spent being one of the Cleveland Indians’ cornerstones, Kipnis arrived in Mesa on a minor league contract, looking to win a job. Ironically, being with his hometown team is unfamiliar territory for the two-time All-Star. 

“[Leaving Cleveland] was hard at first,” he said. “You get used to the same place for 9-10 years, and I think it’s a little hard right now coming in and being the new guy and being lost and not knowing where to go. But it’ll be fun. It’s exciting. It’s kind of out of the comfort zone again, which is kind of what you want right now – to be uncomfortable. I don’t know, I’ve missed this feeling a little bit, so it’ll be good.”

It was a slow offseason for the second baseman, but the second baseman said that he was weighing offers from several teams. Opportunity and organizational direction dictated most of his decision-making, but Kipnis admitted that the forces around him were all, rather unsubtly, pulling him in one direction.

“They were telling me to take a deal, take a cut, whatever. Just get here,” he joked. “... It made sense, it really did. I think I didn't fully understand it until it was announced and my phone started blowing up and I realized just how many people this impacted around my life. Friends and family still live in Chicago, so it’s going to be exciting.”

The theme of renewed motivation has hung around Sloan Park like an early-morning Arizona chill, and Kipnis said part of the reason he feels the Cubs brought him in is to set a fire under some guys. He talked with Anthony Rizzo during the offseason, who talked about how the Cubs had struggled at times to put an appropriate emphasis on each of the 162 games in a regular season. That’s not a new problem in baseball, and it struck a chord with Kipnis, who himself was on plenty of talented Cleveland teams that never got over the hump. 

“They got a good core here. I’m well aware of that, they’re well aware of that, too,” he said. “I texted him and called him and asked him what happened last year, because I look at rosters, I look at St. Louis’, I look at all that, and I’m like, ‘I still would take your guys roster.’” 

As for his direct competition, Kipnis said he hasn’t had a chance to really get to know Nico Hoerner yet, but doesn’t feel like the battle for second base has to be a contentious one by any means. At 32, Kipnis has been around long enough to understand the dynamics an aging veteran vs. a top prospect, and doesn't feel like it’s a situation where only one of them will end up benefiting. 

“I know he came up and had a pretty good success, so I think [it’s] going to be a competition, but at the same time, I’m not going to try to put him down,” he said. “I’d like to work with him, kind of teach him what I know too and hopefully both of us become better from it.” 

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

According to Javy Baez, the Cubs need to improve their pregame focus

While the Cubs’ decline has been talked about over and over again, it’s always been framed in relatively vague terms. Perhaps in the interest of protecting a former manager who is still well-liked within the clubhouse, specifics were always avoided. It was just a change that was needed.

That is, until Javy Baez spoke on Sunday morning. In no unclear terms, Baez took a stab at explaining why such a talented team has fallen short of expectations in back-to-back seasons. 

“It wasn’t something bad, but we had a lot of options – not mandatory,” Baez said from his locker at Sloan Park. “Everybody kind of sat back, including me, because I wasn’t really going out there and preparing for the game. I was getting ready during the game, which is not good. But this year, I think before the games we’ve all got to be out there, everybody out there, as a team. Stretch as a team, be together as a team so we can play together.”

Related: What to love, and hate, about the Cubs heading into 2020

The star shortstop's comments certainly track. Maddon is widely considered one of the better managers in baseball, but discipline and structure have never been key pillars of his leadership style. He intrinsically trusts players to get their own work done – something that's clearly an appreciated aspect of his personality... until it isn't. World Series hangovers don’t exist four years after the fact but given Maddon’s immediate success in Chicago, it’s easy to understand how players let off the gas pedal. 

“I mean I would just get to the field and instead of going outside and hit BP, I would do everything inside, which is not the same,” he said. “Once I’d go out to the game, I’d feel like l wasn’t ready. I felt like I was getting loose during the first 4 innings, and I should be ready and excited to get out before the first pitch.” 

“You can lose the game in the first inning. Sometimes when you’re not ready, and the other team scores by something simple, I feel like it was because of that. It was because we weren’t ready, we weren’t ready to throw the first pitch because nobody was loose.” 

Baez also promised that this year would be far more organized and rigid. They will stretch as a team, warm up outside as a team and hopefully rediscover that early-game focus that may have slipped away during the extended victory lap. That may mean less giant hacks, too. 

“Sometimes we’re up by a lot or down by a lot and we wanted to hit homers,” he said. “That’s really not going to work for the team. It’s about getting on base and giving the at-bat to the next guy, and sometimes we forget about that because of the situation of the game. I think that’s the way you get back to the game – going pitch by pitch and at-bat by at-bat.” 

Baez was less specific when it came to his contractual discussions with the team, only saying that negotiations were “up and down.” He’d like to play his whole career here and would be grateful if an extension was reached before Opening Day – he’s just not counting on it. The focus right now is on recapturing some of that 2016 drive and the rest, according to him, will take care of itself.

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