JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars have hired Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey as head coach, a move they hope will help improve the league’s worst offense.
The team plans to introduce Mularkey at a news conference Wednesday. The Florida Times-Union first reported the hire.
Mularkey’s Falcons managed no points on offense in a wild-card loss to the New York Giants on Sunday. Nonetheless, his long relationship with Jaguars general manager Gene Smith made him a front-runner from the beginning of the search. He also has a son working for the team as a scouting assistant.
“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.”
Mularkey previously was a head coach with Buffalo, where he went 14-18 before being fired after the 2005 season. He has been Atlanta’s offensive coordinator since 2008, helping mentor quarterback Matt Ryan. The Jaguars hope he can do the same with Blaine Gabbert, who struggled in his first season.
“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 hire comes less than a week after Khan officially took over the franchise. Khan made it clear he wanted an offensive-minded coach to turn around a franchise that has missed the playoffs 10 times in the last 12 years.
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.
He could serve as offensive coordinator as well. His biggest task 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 defensive assistants.
The Jaguars went 5-11 this season, which was one of the most tumultuous years in franchise history.
The Jaguars released starting quarterback David Garrard five days before the opener, switched QBs again two weeks later and matched the worst start in franchise history (1-5). Then-owner Wayne Weaver fired coach Jack Del Rio on the same late November day that he announced he was selling the team. Tucker took over and made significant changes, cutting starting receiver Jason Hill, firing receivers coach Johnny Cox and reassigning quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard.
The Jaguars went 2-3 under Tucker, not enough for him to get the full-time job.
Tucker, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and New York Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer interviewed for the position. Denver’s Mike McCoy also was expected to interview, but Mularkey was offered the job Tuesday.
Although many outsiders called Jacksonville the least desirable of the open NFL jobs, Mularkey has some building blocks.
Jones-Drew bounced back from a knee injury in 2010 to break the franchise’s single-season rushing record with 1,606 yards, which also led the league. His accomplishment was even more impressive considering the Jaguars had the NFL’s worst passing offense.
Only three others since 1978 — New Orleans’ George Rogers in 1981, Los Angeles’ Eric Dickerson in 1986 and Baltimore’s Jamal Lewis in 2003 — won the rushing title on a team ranked last in passing.
Jones-Drew routinely faced stacked lines and run blitzes. Nonetheless, he averaged 100 yards a game. He finished with 1,980 yards from scrimmage, second in the league behind Baltimore’s Ray Rice, and accounted for 47.7 percent of Jacksonville’s offense.
But in a passing league, the Jaguars realize they need more. They have to get Lewis back to Pro Bowl form and need to get Gabbert better prepared to handle the most important position in football.
A first-round pick in 2006, Lewis had 58 catches for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010 and was rewarded with a five-year, $35 million contract that included $17 million guaranteed. But he had 39 receptions for a team-high 460 yards this season, including just two catches in the red zone and no scores.
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. Gabbert often seemed scared under the slightest pressure and struggled all season with his accuracy, especially on short throws.
“Where we were last year, we can only go up,” Lewis said.