- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP) - The Jacksonville Jaguars targeted Mike Mularkey early in their coaching search.

The Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator has a relationship with general manager Gene Smith. He has a son working for the team as a scouting assistant. And maybe most important, he has had recent success mentoring a young quarterback.

The Jaguars hired Mularkey on Tuesday night, making him the franchise’s third head coach in 18 years and tasking him with turning around the league’s worst offense.

“Everybody was ready for it to be done,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “For me, personally as an offensive guy, I feel like it’s a good hire. We’re going to get new schemes, a new offense and a fresh start. We were anxious to know what direction we were going to go in, ready to move on and start our new quest for a championship.”

The team plans to introduce Mularkey at a news conference Wednesday.

Mike recognizes the challenge and opportunity before all of us, and that’s to make the Jacksonville Jaguars one of the premier franchises in the National Football League, bar none,” new owner Shahid Khan said in a statement. “In simple terms, Mike is aiming high.”

It’s unclear whether Mularkey will call plays in Jacksonville. He had mixed results as a play caller in his previous head-coaching stint in Buffalo. The Bills were seventh in the league in total offense in 2004, but faded to 24th the following year. Mularkey went 14-18 before resigning after the 2005 season.

He resume also includes stops in Tampa Bay (1994-95), Pittsburgh (1996-2003), Miami (2006-07) and Atlanta (2008-11). He served as offensive coordinator for the Steelers (2001-03), the Dolphins (2006) and the last four years with the Falcons.

Atlanta went 43-21 with Mularkey calling plays, and he helped develop Matt Ryan into one of the league’s top young talents. The Jaguars hope he can do the same with Blaine Gabbert, who struggled in his rookie season.

Gabbert completed 50.8 percent of his passes for 2,214 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was sacked 40 times and lost five of his 12 fumbles. His most troubling trait was pocket presence. The 10th overall pick often seemed scared under the slightest pressure and struggled all season with his accuracy, especially on short throws.

Gabbert’s problems prompted many to call Jacksonville the least-desirable destination of the open NFL jobs.

“Where we were last year, we can only go up,” Lewis said.

Even though the Jaguars had the worst offense in the league, Smith and Khan believe they are close to piecing together a playoff-caliber roster that features running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Lewis and a defense that ranked sixth in the NFL despite several key injuries down the stretch.

Mularkey will be tasked with getting it done.

His first job will be locking down a defensive coordinator. The Jaguars would like to bring back Mel Tucker, who interviewed for the defensive coordinator position in Minnesota, and maybe several of his assistants.

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