JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars fired general manager Gene Smith on Monday after four disappointing seasons, including the worst year in franchise history.
Coach Mike 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 became GM since 2009, compiling a 22-42 record while failing to acquire a single player who 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.
Smith’s most glaring mistakes came in the draft, where he 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 and signing relatively inexpensive guys who failed to produce.
He gave aging receiver Torry Holt a three-year deal that guaranteed him $4 million in 2009. Holt caught 51 passes, but didn’t score and was released after one season.
Defensive end Aaron Kampman got a four-year, $25 million deal the following year. Kampman’s balky knee was the main reason he was on the market. It also was a big part of why he played just 11 games in Jacksonville.
In 2011, following the NFL lockout, Smith spent big on positions that were not glamour spots — signing linebacker Paul Posluszny (6 years, $42 million), linebacker Clint Session (5 years, $30 million) and safety Dawan Landry (5 years, $27.5 million). Session is out of the league after three concussions in 2011.
Smith really opened the wallet this past offseason, signing receiver Laurent Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million contract that included $14 million guaranteed and giving cornerback Aaron Ross a three-year, $15.3 million deal.
Both looked like reaches at the time and seem even less impressive nine months later.
Robinson was a one-year wonder in Dallas, scoring 11 touchdowns in 2011, after being cut by St. Louis and the Cowboys. The Jaguars could have signed him off the street either time, but instead waited until his big season to become interested. He lost his starting job to Cecil Shorts III and ended up on injured reserve following his fourth concussion. He finished with 24 receptions for 252 yards and no scores.
Ross, meanwhile, was a backup with the Giants who got thrown into the starting lineup because of injuries. He won a Super Bowl last season, but his coverage issues were disguised by the league’s best pass rush. He struggled at times in Jacksonville and ended up playing behind rookie Mike Harris down the stretch.
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 have become stars. And Smith gave up a second-round pick to get Cox and a fourth-rounder to trade up and get Blackmon.
Other questionable moves include giving receiver Mike Thomas a contract extension after two-plus seasons and signing tight end Marcedes Lewis to a five-year, $35 million contract after a breakout season. And Smith’s policy of bringing in only those with strong character never paid dividends.
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.