Originally touted as an offensive genius at the beginning of this decade, Mike Mularkey has rightfully lost that moniker and is approaching "bust" status as a coach.
By examining his track record one thing becomes clear. If past events predict future results, the Atlanta Falcons are in trouble offensively.
Mike Mularkey first became offensive coordinator in 2001 for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was promoted from tights ends coach and replaced Kevin Gilbride and had his best statistical year as a coach. The Pittsburgh Steelers were ranked 3rd offensively in his first year as offensive coordinator and made the playoffs.
They were ranked 18th the previous year.
The following year, 2002, the Steelers were still excellent offensively, but slipped a bit to 5th. In 2003, the Steelers entered a free fall offensively and dropped all the way to 22nd, missing the playoffs. Mularkey began to be characterized as a coach that used predictable formations and was way too quick to abandon the run. He became reliant on the gimmick or trick play as opposed to sound play calling.
Mularkey still had a great deal of buzz and was touted as one of the up and coming new coaches in spite of the Pittsburgh offensive rankings and not making the playoffs in 2003.
He used that buzz to land the head coaching job in Buffalo, with the Bills. He replaced the fired Gregg Williams, after Williams posted back-to-back 5-11 seasons. His first year as coach in 2004, the Bills after an 0-4 start, reeled off six straight wins and finished just out of the playoffs at 9-7 after getting beat by Mularkey’s former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers back ups in week 17.
The offense for the year ended up ranked 25th up from the previous years ranking of 30th. The offensive coordinator the year before Mularkey got there?
So, in the two instances in his career where Mularkey raised an offense's ranking statistically, it was done in his first year as coach and he was replacing Gilbride both times.
In 2005, the Bills dropped offensively from 25th to 28th and his handling and development of JP Losman as the quarterback to replace Drew Bledsoe is laughable at best.
Ask any Bills fan about how they feel about the job Mularkey did with Losman, and you will get an answer that will most likely force you to ask small children to leave the room to spare them the obscenity laced tirade.
Mularkey waffled back and forth and sat Losman in favor of journeyman Kelly Holcomb. Citing differences with the direction of the Bills after team President and General Manager, Tom Donahoe was fired, Mularkey quit the Bills before the start of 2006 season.
In 2006, Mularkey landed in Miami as offensive coordinator and the Dolphins promptly dropped from 14th to 20th in offensive rankings. Mularkey did not have the luxury of replacing Kevin Gilbride to inflate his first year numbers. He was then demoted to tight ends coach in 2007 before being fired at the end of the season.
For the 2008 season, Mularkey has been tapped as the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. Entering a team in disarray for the third time in a row, a team in Atlanta that has not enjoyed back to back winning seasons in its history, Mike Mularkey does not bode well for Falcons fans to reverse that trend. His first example of success, in Pittsburgh, can be attributed in large part to the stability of the organization, stability of the coaching staff, and the offensive coordinator he replaced as opposed to his measure of ability to game plan successfully.
In Buffalo, his pattern of success is very similar, a brief one year rise followed by a precipitous fall after replacing Kevin Gilbride.
His time in Miami can be only characterized as a disaster at best. One of the marks of an effective coach is the ability to say yes to the question, “Did you leave the situation in better shape than when you found it?” In each case of his head coaching or offensive coordinator stops Mike Mularkey cannot say "yes" to that question.
Simply put, Mularkey is not the answer for the Falcons.
He has not demonstrated an ability to develop rookie quarterbacks and he has never developed the team around him to be better consistently for more than one season. He has never improved a team offensively from year one to year two. So, Atlanta fans may find themselves doing better this year offensively, and after the debacle of Bobby Petrino it is hard to imagine them worse, only to begin to regress again in 2009. That is, if he doesn’t follow the pattern of his last stop in Miami where the offense got instantly worse. Who was his starting quarterback in Miami?
Joey Harrington, the same quarterback as in Atlanta.
Perhaps Mularkey will learn from his past mistakes and get something out of Joey Harrington and not develop Matt Ryan like he did JP Losman, because right now things are looking eerily similar to his past situations and that does not bode well long-term for Falcons fans.