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Changes aplenty for Jaguars

Weaver sells team, Del Rio cut loose

Jack Del Rio said he was “blessed with nine good years’’ in Jacksonville. Jack Del Rio said he was “blessed with nine good years’’ in Jacksonville. (John Raoux/File/Associated Press)
Associated Press / November 30, 2011
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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 yesterday 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.

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.’’

Forbes reported the sale to be worth $760 million.

Weaver, who will turn 77 in January, 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, too.

“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.

Khan tried to buy controlling interest in the 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.

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.

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

Suh suspended

Ndamukong Suh is going back to the NFL, this time hoping for some leniency.

The league suspended the Lions All-Pro defensive tackle without pay for two games, punishing the second-year player for roughing up a Packers offensive lineman after the whistle last Thursday. Suh promptly appealed his suspension, hoping his stomp doesn’t keep him away from his playoff-hopeful teammates when they need him most.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Suh’s hearing will be with Art Shell, an appointed appeal officer who is paid by the league and NFLPA. As of late yesterday afternoon, the hearing hadn’t been scheduled, but the league has said it will expedite the procedure to give Suh and Lions an answer before Sunday’s game at New Orleans.

If Suh doesn’t win the appeal, he won’t play against the Saints or in the Dec. 11 home game against the Vikings. He would return Dec. 12 ahead of a road game against the Raiders.

Suh is barred from practice and the team’s facility while suspended. He did not return messages left with his agent.

“As a player, you have to appeal it,’’ said Detroit defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, the team’s union rep. “I’m sure the NFLPA will be on his side to make sure that he gets a fair hearing.’’

If the NFL rejects the appeal, Suh will be watching the Lions (7-4) scramble to keep up in the NFC wild-card race after what the league said was his fifth violation of on-field rules in his first two years in the NFL. And everyone saw the latest one.

Suh lifted up his right knee and forcibly stepped on Evan Dietrich-Smith’s right arm during the third quarter of the Lions’ 27-15 loss in a nationally televised Thanksgiving Day game. Before the stomp seen from coast to coast, Suh shoved Dietrich-Smith’s helmet toward the turf while separating himself from the Packers player on the ground.

Earlier this season, the reigning NFL defensive rookie of the year requested a meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss his play after he drew several penalties and another fine. Suh said he had a better understanding of the rules after that meeting four weeks ago. On Sunday, he called Goodell to apologize but that didn’t appear to help.

Suh has already been fined three times for roughing up quarterbacks and another time for unsportsmanlike conduct. He leads the league with nine personal fouls since 2010, according to STATS LLC.

Prognosis negative

Mark Sanchez said there’s “not a chance’’ the Jets make the playoffs if he and his teammates play the way they did in a 28-24 comeback victory over the Bills Sunday. Sanchez told ESPN Radio that New York’s postseason hopes will end if he continues to complete less than 50 percent of his passes, as he did Sunday, and the Jets “lose the turnover battle, lose time of possession, all those stats.’’ . . . Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is free of concussion symptoms and “all things are positive’’ for the AFC North showdown with the Bengals, coach Mike Tomlin said. Polamalu left Sunday’s 13-9 win at Kansas City when his helmet struck the knee of Steve Maneri while Polamalu dived to make the tackle. That marked the second time this season the reigning AP defensive player of the year was forced out of a game because of a blow to the head. Tomlin said Polamalu was “asymptomatic . . . relatively quickly - and I’m talking about Sunday night.’’ . . . Retired quarterback Jake Delhomme signed with the Texans. Delhomme worked out in Houston along with another retired quarterback, Jeff Garcia. Delhomme will back up rookie T.J. Yates, a fifth-round pick who will start Sunday’s game against Atlanta . . . The Chiefs released offensive tackle Jared Gaither just days after he committed a costly false start penalty in a loss to the Steelers. Gaither had come in for one down after left tackle Branden Albert was slow to get up. Gaither was called for a false start, pushing the Chiefs back 5 yards, and they eventually had to settle for a field goal. Kansas City wound up losing 13-9 . . . Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers will miss the rest of the season because he hasn’t fully recovered from surgery on his right wrist . . . The Browns waived long snapper Ryan Pontbriand, who had two costly bad snaps in the past three weeks . . . The Vikings signed former Patriots long snapper Matt Katula to replace Cullen Loeffler, who has a broken bone in his lower back . . . The Bears waived injured special teams contributor Brian Iwuh (hamstring) and promoted linebacker Patrick Trahan from the practice squad . . . Linebacker Erik Walden apologized to the Packers organization, his teammates, and fans in the wake of his recent arrest on suspicion of domestic violence. Walden spent the weekend in jail after he was arrested Friday on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend at their apartment near Green Bay. Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski said Walden’s girlfriend originally told police they were arguing and he pushed her, but she has changed her story to say she hit him first . . . Nolan H. Luhn, a second-team All-Pro end for the Packers in 1947, died in Kansas. He was 90.

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