“It’s why I love coaching. It’s why I do this. It’s a personal challenge to take on adversity and overcome it. It’s why I’m in this.” With those words, Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey very succinctly put on display his personality, his philosophy, his coaching style and even his ability to deflect media scrutiny after a tough loss.
Just like in anything, it’s pretty easy to handle a job when things go as planned. Smooth sailing, no ripples, it’s easy to be magnanimous, cool, calm and collected. But in one of the most dissected jobs in America, NFL Head Coach, Mularkey has displayed what Hemmingway described as “guts” : Grace under pressure.
We haven’t seen much of that around here recently. When Tom Coughlin was the Jaguars head coach and personnel director he was combative, sometimes arrogant and often dismissive when things weren’t going well. He once used the “because none of you in this room have ever known or will ever know what it’s like to play in the NFL,” card when he particularly didn’t like the line of questioning about his team’s lack of success. (Which was only amusing because Coughlin, successful as a coach and a good college player, never played in the NFL either.) Coughlin’s success in New York with the Giants has also allowed his media relationship to mildly mellow. Jack Del Rio was hired almost as the “anti-Coughlin.” He was supposed to relate to the players and bring fans back by being that young, friendly, likeable head coach. Instead he turned out to be a “non-Coughlin.” Not only did Del Rio lack the leadership stature and head coaching acumen of Tom Coughlin, but also his disdain for the media, born of his inability to believe anybody could question his decision-making, was so thick that nobody got close to any information. As one scribe told me, “Jack still lives in the physical world of a player. He thinks if he can kick your butt that you shouldn’t be allowed to question what he does.” Del Rio became the first coach in NFL history to hold two press conferences during the week: one for the cameras and the other for the writers. One writer generally so incensed Del Rio that he couldn’t contain his dislike, something he didn’t want seen on camera.
Mularkey was hired as a football coach. He wasn’t hired to sell tickets, to fill some kind of void needed in the NFL’s smallest market. He was hired to win football games. And that’s what he’s all about. He’s straightforward with the players, the same with his staff and there’s no baloney in his dealings with the media. Sometimes it’s obvious he doesn’t like the line of questioning but he seems to try and answer every question honestly and with some thought, even the most banal or confrontational inquiry. The quote at the top of this article was his response to some consistent hammering about the team’s lack of wins, lack of ability and perhaps lack of talent. It would have been easy for Mularkey to either give the reporter the cold shoulder or challenge his knowledge of what the Jaguars were trying to do. Instead, he revealed a part of who he is that has helped gain the respect of his players and just about everybody in the NFL.
Win or lose, Mularkey isn’t going to change. And he shouldn’t. “I promise you, everybody around here is trying their hardest,” Mularkey said earnestly in response to a question about effort. One thing for sure, he’ll give his best.