The Jacksonville Jaguars have fired head coach Mike Mularkey after the worst season in franchise history, the team announced Thursday morning.
Newly hired team General Manager David Caldwell held a meeting to dismiss Mularkey, who joined the team a year ago, the team said.
"I informed Mike today that he will not return as head coach of the Jaguars," said Caldwell, who was hired Tuesday and introduced Thursday afternoon at a news conference at EverBank Field. "I know Mike well and do not want anyone to misinterpret the rationale behind my decision. Mike is an excellent coach and I am sure he will succeed in his next stop in the NFL. However, I must do what I believe is best for the Jacksonville Jaguars and immediately explore every avenue possible to turn our football team 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."
As for Caldwell, "This is where I want to be," he said. "I know we can be successful here."
Mularkey, who went 2-14 this season, looked like he would be one and done when Khan parted ways with general manager Gene Smith last week. 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," Jaguars owner Shad 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. Mike will land on his feet soon. Until then, I wish nothing but the best for Mike and his family."
Channel 4 sports director Sam Kouvaris said Mularkey knew before the season that the Jaguars were short in a lot of areas and that it would take two to three years to build a team that could win consistently.
"It's why Mike signed a three-year deal in order to get the opportunity to win those games, those close games," Kouvaris said. "You heard him say many times during the season that we keep making those mistakes that beat us, and that was kind of code for, 'Hey, teams can make mistakes and overcome them.' They didn't have enough talent to do that. And so Mularkey gets the short end of the stick here. It's really unfair and really a shame, but that is how that league works."
Mularkey's brief tenure -- he lasted one day shy of 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.
Nonetheless, if Khan really wanted to fire Mularkey, he would have done that after the season finale along with Smith.
So this was Caldwell's call.
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.
Fans, for the most part, say they're very happy change is on the way.
"First impression, not surprised at all after a 2-14 year," Jaguars fan Danny Smith said of Mularkey's firing. "So it's something you could anticipate with a new general manager."
"It probably needed to be done," fan Nathan Terrill added. "I know we had some injuries, but every team has injuries."
"You've got to start at the top," fan Tom Doyle said. "Since the new owner is giving a hands-off approach, the new general manager is going to have to run the whole thing."
Some fans said they thought Mularkey deserved more time, but most said it was time to clean house.
"In the business world, if you don't produce, you're out of there," Terrill said. "I don't see any difference in the sports world, especially when the head coach doesn't have anything to fall back on. I mean, if we had Bill Cowher, he's proven himself. Mularkey, what has he done? Nothing."
Potential replacements for Mularkey include former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Roman's name has been linked to the Jaguars since Caldwell became the leading candidate to replace Smith.
Roman and Caldwell were teammates and roommates in the 1990s while attending John Carroll University.