JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Joe Cullen could have bailed on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The defensive line coach had an offer to leave the Jaguars this month and become defensive coordinator at Boston College. The move would have reunited Cullen with one of his closest friends, new Boston College coach Steve Addazio, and taken Cullen back to where he grew up.
The decision was difficult.
But Cullen opted to stay in Jacksonville even though the Jaguars (2-13) are dealing with the worst season in franchise history and are surrounded by uncertainty regarding the future of the front office and the coaching staff.
Cullen says, "it hasn't been the best of years, but I want to see this thing get turned around."
Cullen, a longtime college assistant who spent the last six years in the NFL, has been with the Jaguars since 2010. He took over a defensive line that set a franchise record for futility when Jacksonville finished with 14 sacks in 2009. The Jaguars made strides in his first two seasons, recording 26 sacks in 2010 and 31 in 2011.
They were expected more progress this year, especially after re-signing Jeremy Mincey and then drafting former Clemson standout Andre Branch in the second round in April.
But it didn't work out as planned, and the team has a league-low 18 sacks.
The Jaguars opened the season without backup defensive ends Austen Lane, John Chick and George Selvie. The injuries forced Cullen to use Mincey and Branch way more than he wanted, and it showed in the box scores.
Jacksonville managed just three sacks though the first five games. Making matters worse, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton struggled early on after recovering from offseason eye surgery. Adding to the defensive woes, the Jaguars played the first 14 games without veteran Daryl Smith and all season without fellow linebacker Clint Session. Smith has 21 1/2 career sacks.
The result? The Jaguars slipped from sixth in total defense last season to 31st.
And with general manager Gene Smith getting the brunt of the blame, there has been speculation that owner Shad Khan might fire Smith and coach Mike Mularkey, and start over.
So no one would have blamed Cullen for jumping at another opportunity, especially since the coaches have gotten no assurances about their futures.
"Steve (Addazio) and I talked," Cullen said. "Obviously, for me, it wasn't the right timing. I love Jacksonville, love the Jaguars, really enjoy the people I work with. No matter what happens, I'm going to coach somewhere, whether it's Pop Warner or somewhere else. With the timing of everything, it was best for me to stay in the NFL and help the Jaguars get to where I know we can get."
The Jaguars have shown some life defensively in the second half of the season.
They held quarterback Aaron Rodgers and high-powered Green Bay to 238 yards, kept the Jaguars in several games and even sacked New England's Tom Brady three times in a close game last week.
"We got after them pretty good," Cullen said. "It wasn't enough, but we were able to do some things."
Cullen believes brighter days are ahead for Jacksonville.
It's the main reason he stayed - welcome news for Mularkey.
"I'm not surprised by Joe," Mularkey said. "He's dedicated to what he's doing and he thinks we're close to what we're doing. I'm sure it's a tough decision. It's a great opportunity to do that."
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