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Mularkey bringing experience, empathy

POSTED: February 9, 2008 5:03 a.m.

ATLANTA — Mike Mularkey could be just what the Atlanta Falcons need in an offensive coordinator.

Working with players disappointed by a 4-12 finish last year, Mularkey brings several assets to new coach Mike Smith and a bedraggled offense that entered Week 17 with the NFL’s lowest scoring average.

Mularkey, 46, spent his last 23 years in the league, including two as a head coach in Buffalo, four as a coordinator with Pittsburgh and nine as a tight end with Minnesota and the Steelers.

But his new players might respect Mularkey for another intangible, the ability to endure turmoil, over the last three seasons. The Falcons felt betrayed after Smith’s predecessor, Bobby Petrino, resigned suddenly in December and disappointed by quarterback Michael Vick, who landed in federal prison for dogfighting.

Mularkey has some stories, too.

"Some of the circumstances kind of dictated what happened," Mularkey said Monday night. "Some were out of my control, some were not. In my last two moves, there were some risky things on both ends, but you live and learn and move on."

None of the lessons came easily. After leading Buffalo to a 9-7 finish as a first-time head coach in 2004, Mularkey struggled through a 5-11 season the following year. He resigned after Bills owner Ralph Wilson fired general manager Tom Donohoe.

Moving to Miami to become Miami’s coordinator, Mularkey spent one year on the job before Nick Saban resigned as Dolphins coach and left for Alabama. Cam Cameron, who replaced Saban, led the Dolphins to a 1-15 record last year.

"I don’t know if you get used to so much change or not," Mularkey said. "It’s hard to describe, but I feel fortunate to be here and I’m glad it worked out that the Falcons wanted me."

Smith hired Mularkey last week, but the Falcons still have several spots open on their staff. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder followed assistant head coach Emmitt Thomas as the second addition.

The Falcons also named Terry Robiskie to coach receivers, Gerald Brown to coach running backs and Ray Hamilton the defensive line.

Thomas will oversee the secondary, and Bill Musgrave will return for his third season as quarterbacks coach.

As for his new personnel, Mularkey said he needs more time before he can watch film of players like tight end Alge Crumpler, receiver Roddy White, running back Jerious Norwood and the quarterback trio of Joey Harrington, Byron Leftwich and Chris Redman.

Mularkey is helping Smith in interviewing coaching candidates at offensive line and tight end. Until that process is finished, Mularkey doesn’t plan to contact players or watch them on film.

The Falcons have many concerns on the offensive line, which lost starting tackles Todd Weiner and Wayne Gandy to season-ending injuries and had a disappointing rookie season from left guard Justin Blalock, a second-round pick.

"I still need to have a good feel for these guys, so there’s no way I can write a fair evaluation of them," Mularkey said. "There’s also a lot of stuff I have to unpack. Everything’s still in boxes."

The only experience Mularkey and Smith have together came during the annual Senior Bowl workouts in Mobile, Ala.

"I got to know him personally in those situations, but we faced each other a couple of times when I was in Pittsburgh and he was in Baltimore, and later when I was in Buffalo and he was in Jacksonville," Mularkey said. "I know of his work, and he knows of mine. I think there’s mutual respect."

Over the previous four offseasons, Mularkey interviewed with the Falcons twice, first in 2004, when owner Arthur Blank decided to hire Jim Mora as head coach, and again the following year, when Atlanta was looking for a quarterbacks coach to replace Mike Johnson.

Mularkey went to work instead for Saban, who needed a coordinator after Scott Linehan left to become head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

"I feel like I created a good rapport at the time with Mr. Blank and (team president) Rich McKay," Mularkey said. "There were no hard feelings. I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to."



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