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Jaguars eager to move on after tumultuous season

By Mark Long

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 2 2012 5:36 p.m. MST

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver waves to the crowd after being honored at halftime during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Stephen Morton, Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker had a simple message for the team following Sunday's season finale: "We're undefeated in 2012."

No doubt, the Jaguars are ready to forget about 2011. It was one of the most tumultuous seasons in franchise history.

The Jaguars released starting quarterback David Garrard five days before the opener, switched QBs again two weeks later and matched the worst start in franchise history (1-5).

Things didn't get any better from there.

Owner Wayne Weaver fired coach Jack Del Rio on the same late November day that he announced he was selling the team. Tucker took over and made significant changes, cutting starting receiver Jason Hill, firing receivers coach Johnny Cox and reassigning quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard.

The Jaguars (5-11) went 2-3 under Tucker, probably not enough for him to get the full-time job. Coaches were told they had to be out of the building by Friday.

"The picture is cloudy, but it will become clearer at some point in time," Tucker said.

General manager Gene Smith is leading the coaching search. New owner Shahid Khan officially takes over Wednesday and insists money will not be a factor in assembling the right staff. The search took off Monday, with at least five offensive coordinators to be interviewed.

The list includes Atlanta's Mike Mularkey, the New York Jets' Brian Schottenheimer and Carolina's Rob Chudzinski. ESPN reported that Denver's Mike McCoy and New England's Bill O'Brien also will be interviewed.

Atlanta coach Mike Smith confirmed the Jaguars have requested permission to interview Mularkey and that the team has "signed off and granted that opportunity."

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum wants Schottenheimer back in New York next season, but confirmed Monday that Schottenheimer will speak to the Jaguars.

And a person familiar with the negotiations said the Jaguars have also requested permission to interview the Panthers' Chudzinski. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because neither team had publicly announced the request.

"I'm excited to get a new direction," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "We're ready to figure out what we're going to be doing and just get better."

Even though the Jaguars had the worst offense in the league, players believe they are close to piecing together a playoff-caliber roster that features running back Maurice Jones-Drew, Lewis and a defense that ranked sixth in the NFL despite several key injuries down the stretch.

Jones-Drew bounced back from a knee injury in 2010 to break the franchise's single-season rushing record with 1,606 yards, which also led the league. His accomplishment was even more impressive considering the Jaguars had the NFL's worst passing offense.

Only three others since 1978 — New Orleans' George Rogers in 1981, Los Angeles' Eric Dickerson in 1986 and Baltimore's Jamal Lewis in 2003 — won the rushing title on a team ranked last in passing.

Jones-Drew routinely faced stacked lines and run blitzes. Nonetheless, he averaged 100 yards a game.

"It was an eight- or nine-man box consistently," guard Uche Nwaneri said. "For an offense to be able to accomplish that against those kind of odds, it was great to see, really proud of that. ... Teams are just saying, 'We know you're the only player that's a threat to us and we're just going to focus all our energy on stopping you,' and they couldn't."

MJD finished with 1,980 yards from scrimmage, second in the league behind Baltimore's Ray Rice, and accounted for 47.7 percent of Jacksonville's offense.

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