After reports were released that he might be fired with a loss in the Wild Card round, Mike Mularkey led his Tennessee Titans into Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri and miraculously upset the Chiefs. Down 21-3 at halftime, the Titans never faltered. Led by Derrick Henry’s running, a stingy defense, and the gutsy performance of Marcus Mariota, the Titans came back to defeat the Chiefs 22-21, tying the largest comeback by a visiting team in playoff history. The win gave the Titans their first playoff win in 14 years and put any questions about Mularkey’s job security to rest.
Following the game, Mularkey stated that it was tough for him and his family to hear these reports prior to the game, and since the reports were not immediately shut down, he stated that he had never felt like he had full support from the front office. The next day, Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk released a statement, saying, “Mike Mularkey is our head coach and will be our head coach moving forward.” This statement, along with the exciting playoff win, seemed to put the critics to rest.
The Titans’ 2017 campaign was filled with promise and expectations after Marcus Mariota’s eye-popping 2016 season and the roster being filled with offensive talent. Fans were expecting to finally take a big step forward. Instead, the Titans were lackluster on offense and were barely getting by teams that were clearly inferior. Hampered by injuries to his hamstring and ankle, Mariota took a step backward, throwing 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions after throwing 26 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions in 2016. Many blamed Terry Robiskie, the team’s offensive coordinator, for the poor play-calling and not developing and using Mariota correctly. Others’ blamed Mularkey for being stubborn in his scheme.
After the playoff win, the critics were much quieter, having seen Mularkey and the Titans prove that they could compete in the playoffs. An extension seemed to be in the near-future for Mularkey. After the 35-14 loss in the Divisional Round to the New England Patriots, reports came out that Mularkey and the Titans were in talks about an extension. This was not a surprise, as the hot seat talk had stopped the week before. Yet on Monday morning, the news broke that the Titans and Mularkey had ‘mutually parted ways’.
The news came as a surprise to not only Titans fans, but people around the league. But as details broke, it is hard to blame the Titans’ front office for making the move. It was clear that there was a disconnect between Mularkey and Jon Robinson, the team’s general manager, and a disagreement about the direction the team needed to move. Mularkey is a loyal coach, but loyalty can sometimes lead to stubbornness. After stating that he was unlikely to make any changes to the coaching staff, it was evident to Robinson that things had to change. After expecting to be back in 2018, Mularkey was fired Monday morning.
“I think in any organization- not to speak for other teams- but its ownership, the head coach, and the general manager, they all have to be on the same page,” said Robinson, who was hired by the team in 2016. The biggest concerns were the team’s inconsistency and a concern that Mularkey and his staff were not coaching the players to their full potential, particularly quarterback Marcus Mariota. It is clear that Robinson is dedicated to building this team around Mariota and the young talent in the locker room, and not Mike Mularkey’s scheme. Mularkey was not on the same page as his general manager, which led to his exit as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans.