Jaguars fire Mularkey after team’s worst season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars fired coach Mike Mularkey on Thursday after just one season, the worst in franchise history.

New general manager David Caldwell made the announcement two days after he was hired, giving him a clean slate heading into 2013. Caldwell said he wants to immediately explore every avenue possible to turn the Jaguars around.

“For that to happen as seamlessly as we want, and as quickly as our fans deserve, I feel it is in everyone’s best interests for an immediate and clean restart,” Caldwell said.

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 owner Shad Khan parted ways with general manager Gene 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.

“Mike Mularkey is leaving our organization with my utmost respect,” Khan said. “Mike gave the Jaguars everything he had on and off the field, and his efforts as our head coach will always be appreciated.”

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.

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 he 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.

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