“Act like you’ve been there before.”
I honestly can’t remember the first time I heard this phrase. It might have been my freshman year of high school, when I was an offensive guard on the Deerfield “B” team and never needed to worry about what I might do when I found the endzone. It was likely much earlier than that; perhaps at some point from my dad, who coached every baseball team I ever played on leading up to high school.
The point is that it stuck with me, more so than many NFL players who get paid millions of dollars to score touchdowns, yet behave like it is the most foreign concept ever when it actually happens.
That won’t be the case in Jacksonville this season with head coach Mike Mularkey’s Jaguars, though.
Mularkey earlier this week revealed that, every time one of his players scores a TD this season and hands the ball to the referee in lieu of a silly celebration that could potentially hurt his team, he will donate $250 to the Ronald McDonald House charity. The Jaguars organization will then match Mularkey’s contribution.
Seriously, how cool is that?
At a time when the NFL can’t seem to shake negative publicity — from "bountygate," to many of the league’s most popular players' blatant disregard for the law, to jeopardizing the legitimacy of the player safety directive by going to war with game officials over a few bucks — Mularkey has ensured the focus in Jacksonville is on the team, not any one individual player.
Think Maurice Jones-Drew got the memo?
After all, successful NFL teams are only as good as the sum of their parts. Mularkey clearly understands that, and I salute him for his efforts to make sure his entire football team receives the message.
Of course, I am not naïve enough to pretend Mularkey’s players can do no wrong. I already mentioned Mojo’s holdout, which is the epitome of putting himself before his team. There is no question top pick Justin Blackmon wasn’t thinking about his teammates when he got behind the wheel after drinking enough to inebriate an elephant.
That doesn’t mean this can’t resonate with those players. Perhaps it prompts the light to finally go on. Perhaps it doesn’t. Regardless, it’s an awesome gesture that will cost Mularkey and the organization very little in comparison to the major impact it will make to those in need.
I’ll admit: I wasn’t thrilled with the Mularkey hiring back in January. I thought Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski made more sense — not because he would have been a sexier hire — but because he would have been more in line with new owner Shahid Khan’s directive for his club to learn how to effectively move the football through the air. However, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the tone Mularkey has set with his club this offseason. Sure, the threats of $10,000 fines for his players talking about injuries was over the top, but he has managed to keep the Jaguars a tightly knit group, despite the distractions of Jones-Drew and Blackmon.
Instead, this is exactly the type of distraction both the Jaguars and the NFL need. One can at least hope it serves as a valuable lesson for players, coaches and front-office bigwigs who need to be knocked down a couple of pegs. It sends a great message to the fans, some of whom are turned off at this point by all the turmoil off the field.
As for Mularkey, his tenure in Jacksonville will ultimately be decided by how many games he wins. This incentive program can help if it strengthens the camaraderie of his club.
There are no awards for winning in the offseason. Still, Mularkey has been impressive this offseason, not only because he has acted like he has been here before, but because his actions suggest he is poised to make his second go around a much greater success.