James Harris (AP Photo/Joe Raymond)
Whether it be in movies, books or sports, everyone needs a villain. Without a villain, there can be no hero. James "Shack" Harris is ours.
Certainly in sports, there are people who we love to hate. If the "Evil Empire" New York Yankees weren't around to outspend the rest of Major League Baseball, those who hate them wouldn't get nearly the satisfaction if their team beat say, the Florida Marlins. Terrell Owens is the ultimate "me-first" type of talent, and if you watch his reality TV show, you'll likely come to loathe him even more as he spends more than most of us earn in a year on a simple pair of earrings. Then Owens team comes to your town and he catches a touchdown or two, and you hate him even more. But when your team beats his, you experience much more jubilation than if you were playing against Andre Johnson, who's even more talented, yet nowhere near the loathsome figure.
The Jaguars apparently have a villain of their own, and he's a guy who served the team for six seasons in James "Shack" Harris. If you believe the propaganda being distributed, Harris was responsible for all of the first-round draft picks that busted out, all of the high-priced free agent acquisitions that didn't work, and could even be behind the economic crisis that the country is currently suffering through.
The good news for Jaguars fans is that in the distance you can now see "new" General Manager Gene Smith riding in on his white horse. Smith is righting wrongs, serving justice and walking old ladies across the street simultaneously as he rebuilds the Jaguars organization.
Gene Smith (JagNation.com)
Smith has parted ways with the "evil Harris's" first-round busts and less than admirable citizens, Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, and has even done away with the horrible free agent signings which include Drayton Florence and Jerry Porter. Smith also parted ways with free agents Tony Pashos and Brian Williams, who weren't playing up to their contracts. Just for good measure, Smith recently wiped out 2008 late-round picks Thomas Williams and Chauncey Washington, and word has it that he even loves puppies and small children.
So what brought Gene Smith to the Jaguars organization this offseason? His car, of course. He can take his car to the stadium because he lives nearby. Why does he live nearby? Because he has been working in the area for the last 15 years. To be more specific, he's been with the Jaguars since May 1, 1994.
You see Smith has been a scout for the team since before their first season and has been with the organization ever since. Before being promoted to General Manager and Senior Vice President of Player Personnel this season, Smith had been Executive Director of College and Pro Personnel.
While certain news outlets are lambasting the Jaguars 2003-2008 drafts (and rightfully so), and insinuating most of the blame toward the now departed James "Shack" Harris, you must keep in mind that Gene Smith was the guy in charge of college scouting and thus acquired the information and presented it to the men in charge, of which he was one of.
Shack Harris is an easy target for Jaguars fans, mainly because he's not here to defend himself. The simple truth is that Harris was part of a group committee that made consensus decisions on which players were drafted and which free agents the team would sign. Although he was part of a group decision making process, he is the one that's seemingly assuming embracing all the blame for all the team's bad decisions and receiving no credit for drafting players like Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashean Mathis, Greg Jones and Daryl Smith, amongst others.
Shack Harris certainly deserves some blame for the Jaguars first-round picks that didn't pan out and the free agents who didn't live up to their deals. Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith also deserve a good portion of the blame, and if you read into the team's propaganda, they are being absolved from it.
Here's an example from a recent story on jaguars.com--
Now consider this: Since taking the conn, as coach Jack Del Rio described it, Smith has ushered out former first-round picks Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, and the release of running back Alvin Pearman leaves only one player remaining from the team’s 2005 draft class and only seven players remaining from the Harris regime’s first three draft crops.
The most stunning fact of this weekend’s cut is that the release of linebacker Thomas Williams and running back Chauncey Washington leave the Jaguars with only two picks, defensive ends Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, remaining from the team’s 2008 draft class. Needless to say, that is a devastating failure.
We certainly can't argue with the fact that those drafts have been failures, but why is the failure attributed to Shack Harris and Shack Harris only? Jack Del Rio was a major part of the decision making process and so was Gene Smith.
As an unbiased observer and member of the media, I agree with the vast majority of the moves that Gene Smith has made since becoming the GM, and I believe his 2009 draft class may prove to be the very best in team history. The Jaguars certainly seem to be heading in the right direction, and although they have a lack of elite talent at the quarterback and safety positions, it is my belief that the team will address those in the best possible manner in next year's draft.
I believe Smith is doing a fine job in his new position, but he's was a big part of the personnel decisions that led to last season's 5-11 record. Whereas Shack Harris was also a large part of those decisions, he doesn't deserve to be portrayed as the villain.