MOBILE, Ala. – No question, John Bonamego wanted to work in Jacksonville.
Bonamego, recently hired as the Jaguars’ special teams coach, had worked for the team before and wanted to do so again. But beyond all of that, Bonamego said there was another factor that overrode all others in recent weeks.
Why the Jaguars? Why join this staff and not another?
Why not stay where he was?
Bonamego said one of his primary reasons was simple, a reason also cited by other assistants this past week: A chance to be part of something new, and as much, a chance to work with Mike Mularkey.
“I was impressed with his passion,” Bonamego said of Mularkey this week at the Senior Bowl, which will be played at Ladd-Peebles Stadium Saturday at 4 p.m. “I was impressed with his genuineness.
“He’s someone I think is transparent and that’s a good thing.”
Mularkey, hired as the Jaguars’ head coach on January 11, spent the past two weeks assembling a coaching staff, and over the last week, jaguars.com asked many of those assistants what it was about the Jaguars’ new coach that compelled them to join his staff.
Some of the assistants long had known Mularkey; others met him only during the interview. But when the assistants interviewed talked of Mularkey, they talked with a common theme, one that emphasized integrity, passion and commitment to winning.
“One of the things that excited me – he loves coaching football,” said defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who – like several assistants from last year’s staff – remained in Jacksonville to work with Mularkey despite offers to join other franchises following the 2011 season.
“I could tell in my meeting with him that he was a genuine person. I don’t care if it’s tight end, coordinator, head coach – he’s a football coach. That excited me. He’s put together a great staff. They’re great people and great coaches with a track record in this league.”
Cullen said Mularkey’s performance as a head coach also enhanced his credibility. Mularkey went 14-18 in Buffalo from 2004-2005, but went 9-7 in 2004. The Bills haven’t had a winning season since.
“He’s the last coach to have a winning record in Buffalo, so he has won as a head coach,” Cullen said. “He’s ready for the challenge that lies ahead, and he’s going to do a great job leading us and leading the team.”
Linebackers coach Mark Duffner knew Mularkey from coaching against him while Duffner was in Cincinnati and Mularkey was in Pittsburgh. He also knew him from coaching seminars and said, “I like what I’ve known and observed from him and I’m excited to have a chance to work for him.”
Bonamego said he never met Mularkey before interviewing, but “it was obvious he was very passionate and he took a genuine interest in getting to know me.”
“We sat down and a lot of it was philosophy, but a good portion of it was two men getting to know one another and getting a feel for one another,” Bonamego said. “The dialogue that we had, the back and forth, really, really excited me.”
Bonamego said while he wanted to return to Jacksonville for family and sentimental reasons, those factors wouldn’t have been nearly enough had the meeting with Mularkey gone differently.
“I walked away from that two-and-a-half hour sit-down thinking above all of the other reasons, I really, really hope he offers me this job because I really, really want to work for him,” Bonamego said. “It’s great that we’re going back to Jacksonville, but my family is already nomads.
“Had it not been the right decision, we would have moved somewhere else, but the fact that I felt so strongly coming out of it – there was excitement not to just be back in the black and teal, but I really want to work for Mike.”
New Jaguars offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski worked with Mularkey in Pittsburgh from 1999-2000, and they also worked together last season when Mularkey, as offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, hired Bratkowski as quarterbacks coach.
He said last week knowing Mularkey for 12 years in essence served as the interview, and that he chose to join Mularkey’s staff because “Mike’s a winner.”
“If you look at the places he’s been, and when he’s been in charge of things they find ways to win,” Bratkowski said. “He’s got a very intense personality. He was an intense player when he played. The players will like him because he played. He sat in that same seat that all those guys sat in and he knows the physical drain, the mental drain, he knows all the things that the players go through. But yet he also knows that they can fight through it because he did.
“So he can present that and as a leader kind of say, ‘Hey, I know you’re sore and tired today but we’ve got to fight through this. Let’s go.’ And Mike’s been a winner and so that’s really basically why it’s so attractive, that he’s had things go well for him just about every place he’s been.”
Jerry Sullivan, hired as the Jaguars’ wide receivers coach, has coached 19 seasons in the NFL, and spent last season out of the NFL. He said he had a “nice life” in Austin, Texas, and worked during the lockout and last off-season with wide receivers such as Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald.
Sullivan said he didn’t have to return to the NFL, and one of the reasons he did was a chance to work with Mularkey.
“I like Mike Mularkey,” Sullivan said. “He has the things I’m looking for in a guy I want to work with. I have great respect for him. I had other opportunities along these lines that I didn’t pursue, but I think it was a bond between him and me. I respect him.
“I’m looking forward to working with him, Bob Bratkowski and the entire staff to take something that’s not real good right now and make it really good.”