New Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell handed Mike Mularkey his walking papers Thursday, ending Mularkey's very brief and extremely disappointing one-year run with the team.
Jacksonville dropped from a 5-11 team in 2011 to 2-14 this year, in Mularkey's lone season as head coach. Possibly worse yet, quarterback Blaine Gabbert took no substantial strides forward under Mularkey's watch -- Gabbert, the No. 10 overall pick in 2011, finished 1-9 as a starter with a 77.4 QB rating.
His lack of improvement, as much as anything, may have spurred Jaguars owner Shad Khan and Caldwell to erase the chalkboard and start from scratch.
"Mike is an excellent coach and I am sure he will succeed in his next stop in the NFL," Caldwell said in a statement. "However, I must do what I believe is best for the Jacksonville Jaguars and immediately explore every avenue possible to turn our football team around. For that to happen as seamlessly as we want, and as quickly as our fans deserve, I feel it is in everyone's best interests for an immediate and clean restart."
Mularkey won the Jaguars' job after four seasons as the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. He will likely now find himself back in the mix for any open offensive coordinator jobs -- though the Gabbert issue could hold him back a bit.
That quarterback conundrum will be front and center for Caldwell and his new head coach. The Jaguars finished the season with Chad Henne as their starter. Henne turned in a couple of decent performances, but nothing that would push Jacksonville to commit to him long-term.
And Gabbert remains under contract through 2014. That, however, does not figure to keep the Jaguars from exploring the free agent market, considering a QB (Geno Smith?) at No. 2 overall in this year's draft or thinking about a trade.
Caldwell quickly put the kibosh on any Tim Tebow-to-Jacksonville rumors, with regards to a trade, on Thursday:
"I can't imagine a scenario where Tim Tebow would be Jacksonville Jaguar," Caldwell said.
All of the recent Jagaurs news, plus Gabbert's shortcomings, did seem to be pushing the team's narrative toward a Tebow-centric conclusion. But while Caldwell's declaration takes the polarizing former Florida Gator off the board, there remains little question that deciding on a No. 1 quarterback will be at the heart of the new GM's aim from now until the start of next season.
In Gabbert's defense, he will be facing a third straight season with a new coaching staff and new offense. Someone like Mike McCoy might be able to get the best of him, too. McCoy, currently the Denver offensive coordinator, has been a hot name on the coaching carousel and has had great success with QBs ranging from Tebow to Peyton Manning.
As far as other possibilities for the Jaguars' job go: current 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman already has generated some buzz, and Jay Gruden was much in the mix last year, before Mularkey was hired. Lovie Smith also may get a call from Jacksonville, given his track record in charge of a tough, defensive-minded team in Chicago.
The Jaguars could use a very quick turnaround -- their downtrodden fan base grew even more frustrated in 2012, as the Jaguars faltered while a rapidly rebuilt Indianapolis team surged to a postseason berth. With the Texans and Colts atop the division, Jacksonville faces a substantial uphill climb back to relevance. Mularkey will not be around for that journey. Only time will tell if Gabbert eventually follows him out the door.