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The best choice

Posted Jan 11, 2012

Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan on new Head Coach Mike Mularkey: 'We felt we'd met our guy'

Mike Mularkey knew the feeling in the room was special.

Mularkey, an 18-year NFL coaching veteran who on Tuesday evening got a second opportunity at a position for which he worked much of his life, said from early in the day Tuesday it was clear something positive, with potential, was occurring.

The vibe between he, Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan and General Manager Gene Smith . . .

Mularkey, 50, said it was just “hard to explain.”

“It was very good,” Mularkey said.

It was good enough to do more than just give Mularkey a good feeling.

It made him the third coach in Jaguars history.

Mularkey, the head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 2004-2005 and the offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons the past four seasons, on Wednesday afternoon officially was announced as the Jaguars’ third permanent head coach during a press conference at EverBank Field.

“I have a huge amount of confidence that this decision is going to serve the Jaguars and Jacksonville well,” Khan said. “I think it’s going to push it forward. I think it’s going to be great.

“This is the rebirth of the Jaguars.”

Khan said the search was conducted mostly by Smith, and called the process “thorough, professional, confidential” and containing “no drama.” Smith, who called the process intensive and thorough, said he had followed Mularkey throughout his career, and knew people with whom Mularkey had worked.

“At the end of the day, the process led us to the right choice,” Smith said.

Khan, whose purchase of the Jaguars was finalized last week, said while he would not reveal specific names because of a desire to maintain confidentiality, the Jaguars talked with multiple “high-profile” coaches during the process.”

He called Mularkey “our best choice.”

“The issue was not splash,” Khan said. “The issue was smart. If you’re looking for one word, it’s smart. It’s something sustainable and it’s about building a winner for the long term that will serve the fans well in the future.”

Khan said he seriously considered whether “splash” would be the right move.

“When it’s all said and done, Mike’s the guy,” Khan said, adding, “It was an easy call after I spent several hours with him. You want to trust, but verify.”

Khan also said there were further interviews planned for Wednesday and Thursday with other candidates, but that upon interviewing Mularkey he and Smith felt, “We’re done.”

“We felt we’d met our guy,” he said.

Mularkey, who had a 14-18 record in two seasons in Buffalo, said he believes he is a better coach than the time he was in the head coaching position previously.

“I feel much more prepared,” he said.

Khan said not ultimately succeeding in Buffalo could help Mularkey in Jacksonville.

“I think it’s a lesson in life itself,” Khan said. “You get your nose bloodied, you learn from it. Adversity is a great teacher and football is no different than life itself.”

Khan said the elements he previously had stated publicly he wanted in a head coach were fulfilled with the hiring: someone he likes and trusts, someone who will connect with the team and the community, someone who will win and someone who will lead the “rebirth of the Jaguars and make Jacksonville proud.”

“Mike Mularkey is that man,” Khan said.

Mularkey, who played tight end for the University of Florida from 1980-82, played nine NFL seasons for Minnesota and Pittsburgh. He began his NFL coaching career in 1994 as the quality control coach with Tampa Bay and was tight ends coach with the Buccaneers in 1995.

He worked as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator from 2001-2003 after serving as the Steelers’ tight ends coach from 1996-2000. He also spent two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, 2006-2007.

 “The goal is to win the Super Bowl,” Mularkey said. “That is the ultimate goal and that is the objective for this team. The goal is to win here. I don’t know what number, but I know winning is going to be stressed to this football team and this staff.”

Mularkey said he is in the process of putting a staff together, and that he will speak to Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker Wednesday evening and Thursday.

“I’m going to talk to him tonight to have him come in tomorrow,” Mularkey said. “I don’t know if you want to call it an interview or just talking to him. I want to have a chance to sit down and talk to him. I’ve spoken to him already prior to this going down. We really have a pretty good relationship.”

Mularkey said while he had a good feeling throughout Tuesday, perhaps the most memorable moment came late in the day. It was then that Khan and Smith left the room for what Mularkey called “a good while.”

“I said, ‘This is either really good or really bad,’’’ Mularkey said. “I had a vibe and I felt like I did a good job. I was up front. Whether it was what they wanted to hear or not, I told them my philosophy, my history, my previous experience at this position – they hit everything possible.

“It was easy to tell the truth.”

Mularkey said shortly after Khan and Smith returned, they offered him the job, and when they did, he had an opportunity with a team he said is very close to being “a consistent winner.”

“This is a team that’s close to making some things happen,” Mularkey said. “I’m here to make sure it does happen.”

Also:

*Mularkey said he met with Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert for about an hour early Wednesday afternoon. “We talked about the direction I want to get this team going, and how I’m going to need his help making that happen,” Mularkey said. Mularkey said he believes it is unfair to compare Gabbert with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, with whom Mularkey worked from his rookie season of 2008 through this past season. “I told Blaine this morning, ‘There are no comparisons,’’’ Mularkey said. “I’m not going to do that to him. He is his own person. He is going to be successful on his own.” Mularkey said he told Gabbert he wouldn’t “put any more pressure on you than you would yourself. Let’s take a step together and make great strides this year.”

*Mularkey said he will not call his own plays, and that he will hire an offensive coordinator.

*Mularkey said he is looking forward to working with Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis, and called Lewis perhaps the best blocking tight end in the NFL. He also said he likes what he has seen on tape from the offensive line. “If we can get those guys as one unit, I think we have a chance up there,” he said.

*Mularkey said he watched tape of Gabbert extensively before taking the job. “He’s a competitor and I like that to start,” Mularkey said. “I see some field command from him.” Mularkey said his impression is that the lockout last off-season “put (Gabbert) behind the 8-ball.” Mularkey said missing that extensive off-season work kept Gabbert from being able to be in a controlled learning environment. “There are so many positives that can come from that,” Mularkey added. Mularkey said he told Gabbert Wednesday he believes he will already be a step ahead this season. “Coming into your second year, it’s different, not just for the quarterback position,” Mularkey said. “I think he’s going to take the next step, just on his own.”

*Mularkey said he looks forward to being heavily involved in the community. “We’re a big part of this community, and we want fans to be a big part of this organization,” he said. “We want EverBank Field to be a place for fans to want to be on Sundays. I know it’s going to take winning and me being out in the community, and I love to do that.”

*Mularkey said of his offense, “It’s about balance, it’s about taking shots at the right time. It’s about keeping defenses off the field. It’s about possessing the football and keeping your defense fresh and not letting your opponent have the opportunity to score. But we’re not stubborn. If we have to throw it to win, we’ve proven we can do that as well.”

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