Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson said a number of factors weighed into the decision to part ways with head coach Mike Mularkey on Monday morning.
Mularkey was let go by the Titans despite producing back-to-back winning seasons and the team’s first playoff victory in 14 years.
While not delving into too many of the details, it was clear enough from his answers at Monday afternoon’s press conference that the reasons for Mularkey’s removal centered around the development of quarterback Marcus Mariota and the evolving of the offense, Mularkey’s unwillingness to make changes on his coaching staff and philosophies and the general belief that the franchise – despite a 19-15 record in two years – might have plateaued under his coaching regime.
The decision came one day after Mularkey’s season-ending press conference, where he announced it was his intent to bring back his entire coaching staff. Later that day, it was learned that Mularkey was possibly in line for an extension. But the bottom dropped out of that Monday morning when, after discussions between Robinson and controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk, she had Robinson and CEO Steve Underwood deliver the news to Mularkey that he was gone.
“Those are conversations that Amy and I had ongoing, back and forth. In the end, we felt (it was) best for the team to go a different direction,” Robinson said.
Robinson said that the reluctance to make staff changes – it is believed that offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie was the biggest part of that discussion – was a factor in the decision. He added that Mularkey’s press conference comments Sunday played a role in the 180-degree change as well.
“I think there’s a lot of factors that go into decisions that you make that impact the football team, this obviously (was) a big one. That’s certainly something that was discussed,” Robinson said of proposed staff changes.
As for the development of Mariota and the offense, Robinson wants the Titans next head coach to be someone who can make not just the quarterback but the entire roster and all three phases of the game better. Mariota took a step backwards in year three, coming off surgery from a broken fibula at the end of 2016 and playing through an assortment of hurts throughout the season.
The Titans offense ranked 23rd this year under Mularkey and Robiskie, and many times struggled to move the football. Early in the season, Tennessee seemed reluctant to use the no-huddle offense and even the read-option, though some of that was related to Mariota’s overall health.
“I think whoever the head coach is, you want to maximize the abilities of all your players. That’s the beauty of this game, it’s a team game. It takes 11 guys,” Robinson said. “Marcus (Mariota) is certainly an important part of that. The quarterback position is a very important, if not the most important position on the field.”
Robinson talked of flexibility as being an important characteristic that he is looking for.
“I think that’s important in today’s league. I think that the NFL game has evolved a little bit, and I think that being able to – like I said earlier in my statement – maximize the ability of players, again, to put the team in the best position to win football games,” he said.
In terms of what else he seeks in a new head coach, Robinson, who indicated that he will have a strong influence in the hire owner Strunk makes, he called it “paramount” that he and the new coach have the same philosophy.
That would seem to indicate that the Titans might have their eyes on someone with a past history with Robinson, who came up through the New England Patriots’ organization and spent two years in the Tampa Bay Bucs front office. The first candidate that had been mentioned, Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, however, reportedly is in line to become head coach of the Titans’ AFC South rival Indianapolis Colts.
The Houston Chronicle reported that former Patriots player and current Texans defensive coordinator Matt Vrabel will interview.
Another potential candidate, according to a league source, might be Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who is most known to Oilers/Titans fans for the playoff comeback he directed back in 1993 with the Buffalo Bills against the franchise.
A report from CBS Sports indicated the Titans plan to interview Panthers defensvie coordinator Steve Wilks, who would also satisfy their compliance with the Rooney Rule to interview a minority candidate.
Robinson said he will go into the search without any favoritism to anyone that he has previously worked with – and would even consider a college head coach, if that is the right person for the job.
“I think we’re going into it with really no preconceived notions. We have a vision for what we want the next head coach to look like. We’re looking forward to talking to candidates and seeing if they fit that bill,” Robinson said.