Titans fire Mularkey
Next coach will be Mariota’s third in 4 seasons; sides differ on how to improve
By TERESA M. WALKER
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans believe the potential reward from quarterback Marcus Mariota working with his third head coach in his fourth NFL season outweighs the risk of change.
Or sticking with the same coach.
So now the Titans are looking for a new coach to replace Mike Mularkey and build off the franchise’s first playoff win in 14 years to make them a true NFL contender.
“There’s nothing more that I want for our fans than to bring a championship here,” General Manager Jon Robinson said Monday afternoon. “I feel like it’s my charge to put the team in the best position to do that.”
The Titans fired Mike Mularkey on Monday, less than 48 hours after a 35-14 loss to New England in the AFC divisional round. Mularkey revived a team with the NFL’s worst record over two seasons and led them to their first playoff victory in 14 years only to become the first coach let go after winning a playoff game since San Francisco fired Steve Mariucci after the 2002 season.
Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk turned to Mularkey in November 2015 when she fired Ken Whisenhunt after 23 games. Mularkey went 2-7 down the stretch as the Titans finished 3-13 to land the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. That capped a 5-27 record over 2014 and 2015 that was the NFL’s worst.
Mularkey led the Titans to back-to-back 9-7 records — their first consecutive winning records since 2007-08. He finished with a 21-22 record after a season in which the Titans cost themselves the AFC South title with a three-game skid in December and needed to beat the Jaguars, now in the AFC championship game, to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
His devotion to an offense he’s known since being offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh between 2001 and 2003 may have cost him. He said Sunday he was prepared to move “full speed” ahead after talking with Strunk. He defended offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie’s play-calling, saying he was happy with Mariota’s development.
Mularkey also said he didn’t anticipate any changes on his coaching staff a week after Strunk issued a statement on his job security. But talk of an extension since a 22-21 comeback win against Kansas City in the wild-card round ended Monday morning when Robinson and President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Underwood told Mularkey they was being let go.
Strunk called it “unfortunate” that they couldn’t find common ground on how to improve.
“I also view this as an important moment for our football team as we try to make that next step to sustained success on the field,” Strunk said in a statement.
Now Robinson will oversee his first coaching search with the Titans the seventh NFL team to change coaches since the start of the season. He was hired two days before Mularkey had the interim title removed in January 2016.
“This boils down to doing what we think is best for the football team moving forward, taking the next step,” Robinson said.
Robinson said interviews with candidates could be held as early as this week, though the Titans will confirm a candidate only after an interview is completed. The general manager declined to discuss Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, saying he couldn’t comment on coaches under contract.
“This is a very attractive job for a lot of candidates,” Robinson said. “I look forward to working with whoever the next head coach is. I think that they will see that myself and Amy will be unified with them in our vision for the football team.”
In Mularkey’s first full season, the Titans led the NFL scoring touchdowns inside the red zone, and they led the AFC while ranking third in rushing offense. Mariota also threw 26 touchdowns with only nine interceptions.
This season, the Titans failed to take advantage of an AFC South in which Andrew Luck did not play for Indianapolis and two-time defending division champ Houston lost rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson to an injury early.
Mariota also had his worst season yet with a career-worst 15 interceptions and 13 touchdowns. The run game, the basis of Mularkey’s offense, slumped to 15th in the NFL.
Robinson said the key is finding the right coach to get the best out of the Titans’ roster, and the general manager isn’t worried about Mariota working with yet another head coach.
“Marcus is a pretty resilient guy,” Robinson said. “He’s a very mentally tough guy. He takes a lot from the standpoint of ownership in things. I have zero concern in Marcus being able to adapt and learn, and do what’s best to get the offense going.