Mularkey odd man out again

Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 11:28 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE - For three years, Marvin Lewis was the hot name. The can't-miss coordinator who always seemed to do just that when a head coaching job was filled.


Gators in the NFL

Mike Mularkey played tight end for the Gators from 1980-82 and caught 55 passes for 628 yards and three touchdowns.

Lewis finally shook that spell this week, when he was named head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Now, it's Mike Mularkey's turn.

Mularkey, 41, a former Florida Gator who is the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers, interviewed with Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver this week.

Talks were productive. So much so, that Mularkey became one of two finalists for the head coaching job left behind by Tom Coughlin. Eventually, however, Weaver elected to offer the job to Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.

"Mike Mularkey is going to be a good football coach in this league," Weaver said. "It just came down to the fact that I felt a chemistry with Jack, and I saw something special in Jack. I felt he would be the right guy at the right time to bring into this franchise."

Del Rio, 39, accepted the offer and was introduced at Alltel Stadium Friday. Mularkey went back home to Pittsburgh and began preparations for next season.

"I feel like it's all laid out," Mularkey told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "There's a plan for me already. It will unfold like it should."

Mularkey, who just completed his second season as coordinator with the Steelers, has had three encouraging yet unsuccessful interviews over the past two years.

"If you look at Mike Mularkey and what he's accomplished, he's already an outstanding football coach," Weaver said. "But I wasn't looking for just an outstanding football coach. I was looking for an individual that had a charismatic personality that I felt would be a great motivator in the locker room and that would energize our community."

Mularkey interviewed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after last season, a position that eventually went to Jon Gruden. This month, he interviewed with the Bengals before Lewis took the job, and then the Jaguars before Del Rio accepted.

One problem Mularkey has faced during this process is the fact that he simply cannot be as prepared as others because of the situation he's in. In each of the last two seasons, Mularkey has had to balance a Steelers' playoff run with his career aspirations.

While other coaches - namely Del Rio whose Panthers finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs - could devote their entire time to the interview process, Mularkey was booked.

"I have not been (totally prepared) for any of the three. I know I can do better," Mularkey said. "I was coming off games without any preparation time. But I don't want to use that as an excuse. It's difficult, but not impossible. People do it every year."

Mularkey's window of opportunity isn't totally closed for this season. The San Francisco 49ers fired Steve Mariucci on Wednesday. Speculation is that former Minnesota Vikings head coach and 49ers assistant Dennis Green is the leading candidate. Green, however, told ESPN Radio on Friday that he was still waiting for a phone call from the club.

While Green waits, perhaps there's a chance Bill Walsh, Terry Donohue and the 49ers hierarchy are pondering a coach of Mularkey's offensive stature, especially considering what the Steelers have accomplished under his watch.

Last season, Pittsburgh was No. 3 in total offense and No. 1 in rushing offense. They went 13-3, won the AFC Central Division and advanced to the AFC title game. This season, Pittsburgh was No. 5 in total offense and No. 7 in passing offense. They went 10-5-1, won the AFC North Division, and advanced to the second round.

"If it happens, it happens," Mularkey said of the 49ers' job. "It may never happen."

It won't happen in Jacksonville, at least not anytime in the near future. The Fort Lauderdale native, who had 55 receptions for 628 yards and three touchdowns in his Gator career, certainly has ties to the Sunshine State, but it wasn't enough.

"Mike is a good football coach," Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher said. "His day is coming. The only question is when."

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