New Broncos Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio was born in Castro Valley, CA on April 4, 1963 and attended Hayward High School, in California. Del Rio was active in sports from an early age, and he played football and baseball for the school, where he was a teammate of former Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu. Del Rio was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays right out of high school, but after some thought, he decided to attend college at USC. He was recruited by John Robinson, and history records that he made a very good decision.
He continued his sports career with the Trojans, playing both baseball and football for them. In football Jack was a linebacker - 6’2” and 246 lb by the end of his time there, he started for the Trojans for four straight years. During that time, he was a consensus All-American as a senior as well as runner-up for the Lombardi Award, but didn’t wait for then to shine. USC went 30-15-1 while he was there, ranking in the top 20 teams in the country three of those four years. In addition to playing in the 1982 Fiesta Bowl, he was the MVP of the Rose Bowl in 1985.
Jack batted .340 as a catcher for USC's baseball team, where his teammates included future HOFer Randy Johnson and slugger Mark McGwire. His roomate at USC was quarterback and later sports announcer Sean Salisbury. Having given sports so much of his time, Del Rio wouldn’t finish his degree in political science until 1990, receiving it from the University of Kansas while playing for the KC Chiefs.
Having decided on football as his career, Del Rio was drafted in the third round (68th overall) of the 1985 draft by the New Orleans Saints. That year, he earned the team’s Most Valuable Rookie award for the level of his play as well as being named to the All-Rookie NFL team, but after two years there, he moved on to the Chiefs, where he spent the offseasons finishing his degree at UK.
From there he moved on to play for the Cowboys from 1989 to 1991, making the playoffs once. Then it was on to the Vikings, where he led the team in tackles for three consecutive years, 1992-1994, staying with them in 1995 and enjoying three years in which they reached the playoffs. He also was voted into and attended the Pro Bowl after the 1994 season. Proud of the conditioning that he worked on fiercely, Del Rio started more than 100 consecutive games in his career. Over his career, he started at RILB, right and left OLB, LLB and MLB, starting at Mike for five consecutive years. While some of the best coaches never played the game much, Del Rio played it at a very high level. It was a small wonder that he spent a lot of his coaching life working on the defense.
It was his own incessant conditioning that got him his first NFL job, as the strength and conditioning coach for the Saints, where he’d played his first NFL game back in 1997. In 1999 he took over the linebackers coaching position for the Baltimore Ravens, and he was later credited with a great deal of the power behind the Ravens defense and their 34-7 dominating win over the Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Del Rio moved to the Panthers in 2002 as their defensive coordinator, so he has a history with John Fox. It’s a relationship in which they have reason to trust one another - when Jack first came to Carolina, the Panthers defense was 31st in the league in 2001: they were coming off a very long 1-15 season. Under the leadership of Fox and Del Rio, their defense allowed only 290.4 yards a game, second in the NFL behind Tampa Bay. The Panthers led the NFL in fewest rushing yards per attempt and were second in fewest yards per play, third down efficiency and in number of sacks. They never allowed a 300-yard passer that year. Only one back ran on them for 100 yards, and that was against the Saints, when QB Aaron Brooks ran for 145 yards. The following year, Del Rio was offered and took on the head job at Jacksonville.
Before taking on a head coaching job, Del Rio worked under some of the best coaches in football. The list includes John Robinson, Bum Phillips, Jim Mora, Frank Gansz, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Green. He also coached alongside Dom Capers, Dave Campo, Dave Wannstedt, Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, Tom Moore, Norv Turner, Butch Davis and Mike Tice. As an assistant coach for six seasons, Del Rio worked on the staffs of Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, Super Bowl participant John Fox and Super Bowl winner Brian Billick. Under coach Billick, Del Rio worked on defense with current NFL head coaches Marvin Lewis, Mike Smith and Rex Ryan.
Jack spent nine years with the Jaguars as the successor to Tom Coughlin, ending that time with a 68-71 record, making it to the playoffs twice. In five of those nine seasons he was at or over .500, with his best year in 2005, when the team went 12-4 and made the playoffs. The Jags would make the playoffs again in 2007 with an 11-5 record; in four of Del Rio’s first five seasons with the Jaguars his defense was among the top 10 in the league.
The last four seasons were a continuing struggle for the Jags, and not all of it can be traced to Del Rio. They’ve had difficulties in the draft, and no team wins consistently without top talent. Even so, they made it to 8-8 in 2010 before the wheels came off in 2011. When Del Rio was let go, the team was only 3-8. They had made the playoffs twice during his tenure and had a 1-2 record in the playoffs.
Whatever his record, there are aspects to his career that directly affect what he’s going to do in Denver. After all, he joined Carolina in 2002 and helped Fox turn a defense that ranked 31st in yards allowed in 2001 into one that ranked 2nd in 2002. Over the first eight seasons he was head coach in Jacksonville, their defense ranked 10th in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (316.9) and 7th in rushing (104.0). His offense, much like Fox prefers, ranked third in rushing yards with 130.5 and was fourth in fewest turnovers (179) during that time. Controlling the ball, taking it away, stopping the run and minimizing yards and points per game is exactly what the Broncos are looking to do.
As a former Mike himself, Del Rio takes the role of the linebackers seriously, and it will be interesting to see how he approaches the Broncos’ situation. It’s not like he’s not used to understanding and using every defensive position - he’s proved his skill there. He’s a very well-versed coordinator who has played the defense, coached the defense and run a team, as well as spending time as a strength and conditioning coach and learning under some of the best. He brought his own strength coach with him from Jacksonville, Luke Richesson - who had been with the Jags for three years - to replace Rich Tuten.
Best of luck to Fox, Del Rio, Richesson and to the Broncos. All in all, this looks like a natural and positive relationship. I hope that Fox and Del Rio have the kind of success that they did in their last experience together.