From Comcast SportsNetJACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- The more Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan watched his team play, the more he realized one thing:"We needed a rebuild from the ground up," Khan said.So the Jaguars fired coach Mike Mularkey on Thursday after just one season, the worst in franchise history. The move came 10 days after Khan fired general manager Gene Smith.Khan also introduced new GM David Caldwell on Thursday, and by parting ways with Mularkey, gave him a clean slate heading into 2013."I've always been a part of a winner," said Caldwell, who signed a five-year deal. "I've never been a part of a losing team."But maybe the biggest news of the day came when Caldwell said New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, a Jacksonville native who starred at nearly Florida, is not in the team's plans."I can't imagine a scenario in which he'll be a Jacksonville Jaguar -- even if he's released," Caldwell said.Caldwell took slightly more time to decide on Mularkey.Mularkey, who went 2-14 this season, became the eighth head coach fired since the end of the regular season. He looked like he would be one and done when Khan parted ways with Smith last week and gave Mularkey's assistants permission to seek other jobs. Even though Khan ultimately hired Mularkey, Smith directed the coaching search last January that started and ended with the former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator."I felt like we needed a fresh start here," Caldwell said. "Coming in here as a first-time general manager, I'm looking for a co-builder of our team. When I talked to Shad in terms of a culture change along the football side, I felt like it was more of that. I felt like it was an atmosphere of change. I felt like that to do that, you've got to have a fresh start across the board."Mularkey's brief tenure -- he didn't even last 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.Now it is -- and Khan made that clear Thursday."A year ago, when I came here, the organizational judgment was we were a pretty good team, just a few players and a draft away from really competing for a playoff spot," Khan said. "As the year progressed, it was pretty obvious that was not the case, and we would need a fresh start and a rebuild from the ground up."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 Mularkey 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.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."It was tough," Caldwell said. "I have a ton of respect for Mike. ... It's never easy and that's probably the worst part of the business."Potential replacements for Mularkey include former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.Schottenheimer was up for the Jacksonville job last season, and Roman has been linked to the Jaguars since Caldwell became the leading candidate to replace Smith.Roman and Caldwell were teammates and roommates in the 1990's while attending John Carroll University."I think Greg is a heck of a coach," Caldwell said.
Not all losses are created equal.
When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.
By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.
The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.
An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.
“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”
There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.
The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.
The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.
After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.
“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”
Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”
That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.
“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”
In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.
But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.
“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.