Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

January 11, 2013

Jaguars fire Mularkey after team's worst season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The more Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan watched his team play, the more he realized one thing:

"We needed a rebuild from the ground up," Khan said.

So the Jaguars fired coach Mike Mularkey on Thursday after just one season, the worst in franchise history. The move came 10 days after Khan fired general manager Gene Smith.

Khan also introduced new GM David Caldwell on Thursday, and by parting ways with Mularkey, gave him a clean slate heading into 2013.

"I've always been a part of a winner," said Caldwell, who signed a five-year deal. "I've never been a part of a losing team."

But maybe the biggest news of the day came when Caldwell said New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, a Jacksonville native who starred at nearly Florida, is not in the team's plans.

"I can't imagine a scenario in which he'll be a Jacksonville Jaguar — even if he's released," Caldwell said.

Caldwell took slightly more time to decide on Mularkey.

Mularkey, who went 2-14 this season, became the eighth head coach fired since the end of the regular season. He looked like he would be one and done when Khan parted ways with Smith last week and gave Mularkey's assistants permission to seek other jobs. Even though Khan ultimately hired Mularkey, Smith directed the coaching search last January that started and ended with the former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator.

"I felt like we needed a fresh start here," Caldwell said. "Coming in here as a first-time general manager, I'm looking for a co-builder of our team. When I talked to Shad in terms of a culture change along the football side, I felt like it was more of that. I felt like it was an atmosphere of change. I felt like that to do that, you've got to have a fresh start across the board."

Mularkey's brief tenure — he didn't even last a year — was filled with mistakes. His biggest one may have been his loyalty to Smith, who assembled a roster that lacked talent on both sides of the ball.

Mularkey probably stuck with Smith's franchise quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, longer than he should have. And the coach's insistence that the team was closer than outsiders thought and his strong stance that he had the roster to turn things around became comical as the losses mounted. The Jaguars lost eight games by at least 16 points, a staggering number of lopsided losses in a parity-filled league.

Mularkey would have been better served had he said publicly what he voiced privately: that the Jaguars didn't have enough playmakers or a starting-caliber quarterback.

Instead, he never conceded that Jacksonville was a rebuilding project that needed time.

Now it is — and Khan made that clear Thursday.

"A year ago, when I came here, the organizational judgment was we were a pretty good team, just a few players and a draft away from really competing for a playoff spot," Khan said. "As the year progressed, it was pretty obvious that was not the case, and we would need a fresh start and a rebuild from the ground up."

Mularkey signed a three-year contract on Jan. 11, 2012, getting a second chance to be a head coach six years after resigning with the Buffalo Bills.

His return was shaky from the start.

His best player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, skipped offseason workouts as well as training camp and the preseason in a contract dispute. His first draft pick, receiver Justin Blackmon, was arrested and charged with aggravated DUI in June. And his team was riddled with injuries, including key ones to linebacker Daryl Smith and Jones-Drew.

Even things Mularkey had control over went awry.

He had to backtrack after saying Chad Henne would compete with Gabbert for the starting job in March. He created a stir by threatening to fine players up to $10,000 for discussing injuries. He initially played rookie receiver Kevin Elliott over Cecil Shorts III early on. And he really irked some players with tough, padded practices late in a lost season.

Throw in the way he handled injuries to receiver Laurent Robinson (four concussions before going on IR) and Jones-Drew (admittedly should have had foot surgery sooner), and there were reasons to doubt whether Mularkey was cut out to be a head coach. Dating back to his final season in Buffalo, Mularkey has lost 20 of his last 23 games.

Caldwell and Mularkey spent four years together in Atlanta, getting to know each other well enough that Caldwell didn't need a sit down with Mularkey after he got the GM job Tuesday.

"It was tough," Caldwell said. "I have a ton of respect for Mike. ... It's never easy and that's probably the worst part of the business."

Potential replacements for Mularkey include former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

Schottenheimer was up for the Jacksonville job last season, and Roman has been linked to the Jaguars since Caldwell became the leading candidate to replace Smith.

Roman and Caldwell were teammates and roommates in the 1990's while attending John Carroll University.

"I think Greg is a heck of a coach," Caldwell said.

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