After four years of futility, the Jacksonville Jaguars are heading in a different direction.
Coach Mike Mularkey might not be around for the move.
The Jaguars fired general manager Gene Smith on Monday after four disappointing seasons, including the worst year in franchise history.
Mularkey could be next.
Owner Shad Khan is waiting to decide Mularkey's fate until he hires a new general manager, which could happen this week.
Mularkey failed to make the Jaguars (2-14) better in his first season, setting a team record for losses and dropping eight games by 16 or more points.
Smith was the architect of the roster. He had been with the team since its inception in 1994, working his way up from regional scout to general manager. He has been GM since 2009, compiling a 22-42 record. Not one player he acquired made the Pro Bowl.
"Now it is time for the Jacksonville Jaguars to begin a new chapter," Khan said in a statement. "We're not looking back. I've made it clear from Day One that we pledge nothing less than to deliver the first Super Bowl championship to Jacksonville. Our fans have been remarkably loyal over the years, and they were truly outstanding this past season. We simply must do better for our fans."
Khan said the search for a new GM will begin immediately.
Arizona director of player personnel Jason Licht, San Francisco director of player personnel Tom Gamble, and Atlanta director of player personnel David Caldwell have been mentioned as potential replacements.
"I'm determined to find the right man to lead our football operations, someone who shares my vision, understands the commitment we will demand and is qualified and ready to seize this opportunity," Khan said.
Khan informed Smith of his decision Monday morning and then delivered the news to Mularkey.
Mularkey said he received no assurances he would be retained for a second season.
"It was a conversation about Gene's status," said Mularkey, the former Buffalo Bills head coach who now has lost 20 of his last 23 games. "My status was not discussed, and I won't go into detail what was. But until I'm told otherwise, I'm the head coach of this team."
So the Jaguars are in limbo again, much like they were late last season when Khan bought the team from Wayne Weaver for $770 million. Weaver fired coach Jack Del Rio the same day he gave Smith a three-year extension despite Smith's numerous mistakes in the draft and in free agency.
Smith handled the coaching search, which started and ended with Mularkey.
But the Jaguars made no progress under Mularkey, finishing the year ranked 29th in offense and 30th in defense.
"You knew something was going to happen," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "You didn't know where it was going to start. It obviously started from the top and it will probably make its way down."
Knighton is one of numerous free agents who could make the Jacksonville job enticing for prospective GMs. The new GM would be able to rebuild the roster, and the Jaguars have plenty of room under the salary cap and few dead-money contracts.
Nonetheless, changes are never easy inside a locker room.
"With a year like this, you can point fingers everywhere," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "I'm not sure what the final straw was, but it happened. Kind of got to move forward and do what you do."
Smith changed the way Jacksonville approached personnel moves. He made character as important as ability, but it never paid off the way he envisioned.
Finding talent seemed to be the main issue.
Smith whiffed on offensive tackle Eben Britton (39th overall pick in 2009), defensive tackle Tyson Alualu (10th pick in 2010) and quarterback Blaine Gabbert (10th pick in 2011). Smith traded up to select Gabbert even though several teams with quarterback needs passed on the former Missouri starter.
He also drafted a punter in the third round in April, a move that was mocked locally and nationally.
Equally alarming for Khan had to be Smith's penchant for overpaying in free agency: Torry Holt, Aaron Kampman, Paul Posluszny, Clint Session, Dawan Landry, Laurent Robinson and Aaron Ross.
Smith did hit on some players, including left tackle Eugene Monroe (eighth pick in 2009), cornerback Derek Cox (73rd pick in 2009) and receivers Cecil Shorts (114th pick in 2011) and Justin Blackmon (fifth pick in 2012). But none of those starters has become a star. And Smith gave up a second-round pick to get Cox and a fourth-rounder to trade up and get Blackmon.
Smith's most controversial act came in April, when he chose punter Bryan Anger in the third round (70th pick). Anger was terrific as a rookie, but adding him never seemed like the best call for a team that needed talent and depth at so many other positions.
Smith defended the pick by saying he would "rather take a starter over a backup." Terry McDonough, the team's personnel director, challenged reporters to compare Anger to other third-rounders in four years and see who has been more productive.
Eight months later, quarterback Russell Wilson (75th pick) has Seattle in the playoffs. The Jaguars, meanwhile, are out of the postseason for the 11th time in the last 13 years. And they're looking for a new GM and maybe a new coach.
"Obviously, 2-14 isn't the season you want to kind of hang your hat on," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "When you don't produce, this is what happens."
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