(Sources include Forbes, NFL.com, Fox Sports, and Wikipedia)
Over the course of Monday morning, reports surfaced that Mike Mularkey and the Titans’ organization agreed to part ways. This is after back to back 9-7 campaigns and first playoff appearance since 2008 under quarterback Vince Young. In order to secure a playoff berth, they swept the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The rocky relationship started after the Titans organization refused to endorse Mularkey for another season despite the substantial progress and first playoff victory since 2003 while under Jeff Fisher. While there is cause for both sides to be unhappy for each other, this is more of a blunder for the Titans organization.
In the course of eight days, ownership has gone back and forth in regards to their position on Mike Mularkey. After Mularkey criticized management for not endorsing him for next season (and rightfully so), owner Amy Adams-Strunk made this comment in regards to his future:
“Just to eliminate any distractions moving forward, Mike Mularkey is our head coach and will be our head coach moving forward.”
In this statement, the most important word in that statement is “Just”. Using the word just, in that context, is an immediate sign that the statement has no substance. It is a “nothing response”. Throughout the season, it has been abundantly clear that many fans and ownership have not been on the Mularkey bandwagon despite the remarkable changes he has put out.
“Mularkey has 22 years of NFL coaching experience, including four-plus seasons as a head coach and eight as an offensive coordinator, with coaching stops in Jacksonville, Atlanta, Miami, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. In five of his eight seasons as a coordinator, Mularkey’s teams went to the playoffs.” This quote is directly from the Tennessee Titans website.
|Wins||Losses||Ties||Win %||Finish||Wins||Losses||Win %||Result|
|BUF||2004||9||7||0||.563||3rd in AFC East||—||—||—||—|
|BUF||2005||5||11||0||.313||3rd in AFC East||—||—||—||—|
|JAX||2012||2||14||0||.125||4th in AFC South||—||—||—||—|
|TEN*||2015||2||7||0||.222||4th in AFC South||—||—||—||—|
|TEN||2016||9||7||0||.563||2nd in AFC South||—||—||—||—|
|TEN||2017||9||7||0||.563||2nd in AFC South||1||1||.500||Lost to New England Patriots in AFC Divisional Game|
In his first two seasons, he took a team that went 3-13 to back to back 9-7 campaigns. It is not Super Bowl or championship material in any sense. It is their first playoff victory since 2003 and first appearance in a decade. Clearly, there was a backing for him in the locker room. This isn’t just a team saying it to say it. They proved it by their second half play against the Kansas Chiefs on Wildcard Weekend only a week ago.
Within these two full seasons under Mularkey, the team as a whole has shown serious improvements. This is particularly shown on the defensive side. Despite the fact that Mariota has regressed, it still should not serve as a conclusion that Mularkey’s scheme could not have worked. Many fans forget that there was only his second full season and both were over .500 campaigns, exceeding expectations.
Especially in today’s NFL, the rushing attack is often not discussed. Rather, it is that the passing game has become sublime in the NFL. Although the stats show that Mariota has regressed, it is actually hyperbolized in a number of ways.
In 2017, Mariota had an even better completion percentage and only threw for 200 less yards than he did last year. Unfortunately, one of the biggest flaws is that there is simply too much pressure on Mariota. Pressure, not literally because Tennessee actually has one of the better offensive lines in football. The pressure of not having a solid rushing attack and targets that are not consistent.
His wide receivers have let him down a number of times throughout the season. One example of this Delanie Walker dropping a touchdown pass late in the third quarter, away visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers. Walker is lined up on the left side of the formation. After running a post route that results in him being in the center of the end zone, Mariota throws a dime to Walker in the end zone that was ultimately dropped.
Due to that play, Tennessee would have to kick a field goal and Pittsburgh would dominate the rest of the game. This snapped Tennessee’s four game winning streak and was the start of a tailspin that made the last week of the season do or die for the Titans.
Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie implemented a Power Run offensive scheme, or as Mike called “Exotic Smashmouth”. In 2016, it worked to perfection. They were the top running football team in football with a stout offensive line and DeMarco Murray playing at an elite level. Now, with the lingering injuries of Murray, it put an immeasurable amount of pressure on Mariota to make every single play on the field. This lack of balance could serve as a reason for his lack of statistical production, not a coaching incapability.
In short terms, they fired Mularkey because they were being impatient with Marcus Mariota and the fact that they believe Josh McDaniels wants to become the next Titans’ coach. While there is no dispute that McDaniels’ is one of the best assistants in football, would he really want to coach the Titans? Does he have more faith in Luck or Mariota? In a sense, this is him really deciding between Mariota and Luck.
His first stint as a head coach, from 2010 to 2012 with the Denver Broncos, he was naive and power hungry. He thought that he had all the answers and knew what to do. Ambition is great. However, there has to be a balance between ambition and ignorance.
This all toppled down at once due to the team eventually letting go of Tim Tebow. The team, as a whole crumbled, consequently, letting go of McDaniels and eventually acquiring Peyton Manning in route to a Super Bowl appearance.
Regardless of who takes over, (likely Josh McDaniels), they have a great foundation to work with. GM Jon Robinson has had solid drafts and quality free agent signings. This includes draft picks such as Adoree Jackson, Jack Conklin, and Corey Davis and signings such as Eric Decker, Logan Ryan, and Brian Orakpo.
Despite the tough division, there is potential for this team. Perhaps going even deeper into the playoffs next season. As many fans rejoice over the departure of Mularkey, there is no question that he has done a lot of good. Time will tell if Mularkey leaving was the best move.