MINNEAPOLIS — Jack Del Rio was an impressive linebacker for the Vikings in the mid-’90s. He was also a team leader, while anchoring one of the best defenses in the NFL.
His time as an NFL coach has not been as impressive. In 12 years as an NFL head coach, he won one playoff game.
Maybe his leadership has been at issue.
This week, Del Rio embarrassed himself. He called the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol a “dust-up.” One police officer was killed during the attack; four later committed suicide; many more were injured.
Del Rio conflated the Jan. 6 attack with protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Del Rio later issued a statement that amounted to a half-hearted attempt at an apology, but his Twitter feed is filled with disinformation and views that support his original statements.
He wants us to believe that a violent insurrection is the same as a protest against the police killing black people without cause.
How does a league that claims to be sensitive to the plight of Black Americans continue to employ Del Rio?
How can Black players on the Washington Commanders view him as a leader?
How can anyone take him seriously again?
It’s quite possible that Del Rio’s career will survive, at least in the short term, because he coaches for the Commanders, perhaps the most dysfunctional franchise in U.S. professional sports. He was fined $100,000 by the Commanders on Friday.
A decent organization would fire him now, when it has plenty of time to find a new defensive coordinator before the start of training camp.
This is not the first time I’ve witnessed Del Rio out-think himself and sabotage his team while trying to prove he was the smartest person in the locker room. In 1992, Del Rio’s first season in Minnesota, he advocated loudly for backup QB and former USC teammate Sean Salisbury to play over Rich Gannon, recovered from injury, in the Vikings’ home playoff game against Washington. The game was a disaster. Against a Washington team decimated by injuries, Salisbury completed 6 of 20 passes for 113 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Washington won, 24-7.
Gannon left in free agency, became a valued backup and then made four consecutive Pro Bowl teams with the Raiders. In 2002, he would win the Associated Press MVP award. Salisbury would start eight more NFL games, going 3-5. He would later admit that, as an analyst at ESPN, he had shown indecent photos to coworkers.
You could see the same self-satisfied glint in Del Rio’s eyes this week, as he called the insurrection a “dust-up.”
Former Washington kick returner Brian Mitchell, a member of the team’s Ring of Fame, said on his radio show: “I get so sick of it. We have a coach (Ron Rivera) who we sit up here and we try to put on a pedestal as he’s this disciplinarian.
“And,” Mitchell continued, “he’s got a defensive coordinator who constantly pokes the bear. You’ve got an undisciplined D-coordinator, but you want your football team to be disciplined?”
Del Rio did good things for the Vikings on the field, but it’s a good thing he was never a coach here.