JACKSONVILLE -- Not long before he planned on interviewing for the vacant head coaching job with the Dolphins, Mike Mularkey sat down with the Jacksonville Jaguars and discussed their opening.
Mularkey never made it to his meeting with Miami.
The Jaguars offered their job to Mularkey, and he accepted without ever talking to the Dolphins. A former tight end at Florida who went to Northeast High in Oakland Park, Mularkey is excited to be back in the Sunshine State — even if it is a little farther north than where he grew up.
“This has been an easy transition for me,” said Mularkey, who was fired by the Dolphins after being offensive coordinator under Nick Saban in 2006 and tight ends coach under Cam Cameron the following year.
“There are a lot of good things going on right now, and it starts from the stop. We’re upgrading everywhere, and I think players are noticing that we are building things to have success. There are a lot of good things going on.”
Mularkey spent the past four seasons as the offensive coordinator with the Falcons, and their success was a big reason the Jaguars went hard after him.
The Jaguars’ passing game was the worst in the league last season as Jacksonville started 1-5 then lost five of its final seven games to finish 5-11 as Jack Del Rio was fired after nine seasons. Jacksonville’s final three victories came against Tampa Bay and Indianapolis (twice).
When the Jaguars called to interview him, Mularkey was smarting from Atlanta’s 24-2 loss to the Giants in the opening round of the playoffs. The Falcons’ offense was stymied by New York’s defense and Mularkey wondered if that final performance in the Georgia Dome was going to cost him when it came to getting a head coaching gig for the 2012 season.
“We had a poor performance in the Giants game so you hope to not be judged by one game,” Mularkey said. “They were looking at my career and not that one game. But to have two Florida teams, two teams I had a lot of familiarity with have interest was nice.”
This is Mularkey’s second head coaching job and he says he has changed a bit since his previous head coaching stint with the Bills from 2004 to 2005. Mularkey went 9-7 in his first season with the Bills then finished 5-11 and left when former coach Marv Levy was brought back to run the team.
“There are some things that are different and these are two different organizations,” he said. “I’m focusing more of my energy on players who are here, the guys doing things the right way. I’m not letting things distract me. Guys are here doing their job.”
In Jacksonville, Mularkey definitely faces a number of issues — especially on offense.
For starters, running back Maurice Jones-Drew held out for a new contract, leaving questions on who would start the season in the backfield. Rashad Jennings looked good filling in the first two preseason games by averaging over five yards per carry.
Blaine Gabbert is back behind center for a second season after a rough ride as a rookie. The 6-4 quarterback out of Missouri struggled for much of the year, throwing for 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions as Jacksonville had the worst passing offense in the league. Jacksonville’s 243 points ranked 28th.
Gabbert was tossed into the flames last season, starting 14 games.
“I’d say he’s one of the most improved guys right now,” Mularkey said.
During the offseason, the Jaguars signed former Dolphins starter Chad Henne to a two-year deal worth almost $7 million. The thought is that if Gabbert gets off to a tough start, Henne will be able to come in and take over.
Officially, the Jaguars have said the starting job is Gabbert’s no matter what. Few think the Jags opened up the checkbook for Henne just to have him carry a clipboard if Gabbert’s improvement isn’t significant.
Henne spent the past four seasons with the Dolphins but didn’t have much of a sendoff. Henne played in just four games last year because of a shoulder injury.
“I think this is a great opportunity. Everyone is on the same page, wants to compete,” said Henne, who kept his home in Plantation after signing with the Jags. “We all have to prove ourselves. What happened in the past is in the past. We are moving forward. We’re coming together as a team. They’re obviously giving Blaine the job, but I’m here to compete. I’m going to push. We’ll see what happens. I’m looking at things as I’m competing for the starting job.”