JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Mike Mularkey's return to Jacksonville stirs memories. Some good, more bad.
The Jaguars have six players remaining from Mularkey's one-year tenure as head coach in 2012, and those guys have vivid recollections of a two-win campaign in which the team lost eight games by double digits and really unraveled down the stretch.
Mularkey's injury policy, inconsistent approach and desire to institute some military-like details didn't sit well with many players.
Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis declined comment this week, saying he had nothing good to say about Mularkey. Defensive end Andre Branch didn't hold back, saying Mularkey ''focused on everything that didn't have anything to do with football.''
Lewis and Branch are unlikely to search out Tennessee's interim coach when the Titans (2-7) play at Jacksonville (3-6) on Thursday night. Mularkey's return, though, is sure to be a main story line leading into a game featuring the AFC South's worst teams.
''Obviously that was a tough year for us,'' defensive end Tyson Alualu said. ''We only won two games. I just remember we went into the season thinking we had a good shot, but over time the morale just kind of fell off. The culture here was a lot different than it is now. He was a new coach that year and he had a year to try and make things happen. It's not one of the best memories to have, that season.''
Mularkey signed a three-year contract with the Jaguars in January 2012, getting a second chance to be a head coach six years after resigning with Buffalo.
His brief tenure was filled with mistakes. His biggest one may have been his loyalty to general manager Gene Smith, who assembled a roster that lacked talent on both sides of the ball.
Mularkey 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 became comical as the losses mounted. The Jaguars lost eight games by at least 16 points, a staggering number in a parity-filled league.
There were some legitimate excuses. His best player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, skipped offseason workouts 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 played rookie receiver Kevin Elliott over Cecil Shorts III early on. And he 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 question his leadership. Dating to his final season in Buffalo, Mularkey lost 20 of 23 games.
''He wanted to bring work ethic and a physical style of football here, but some guys just didn't take to it,'' linebacker Paul Posluszny said. ''I still think highly of him. The way he did things, he demanded a lot of his players. This is the NFL, but for whatever reason it just didn't work well here.''
Mularkey really raised eyebrows by threatening to fine players up to $10,000 for talking about injuries. He also mandated that helmets be aligned during stretching and players stand in formation during the national anthem. He also took some of the fun out of the game by asking players not to celebrate touchdowns.
''I've tried to forget that season the best I can,'' said Branch, a rookie in 2012. ''It was a tough season. It was a whole different vibe than it is now right now. There was just a lot of negativity. It made you stronger because you knew it couldn't get any worse.
''His main objective wasn't to get better to me as a player. I have no problem standing on the line for the national anthem; it was amazing. But we don't need to work on that for a week. Let's just focus on the stuff that makes a difference on game day.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL