A gut-wrenching collapse after controlling the game for 55 minutes. A loss to the team that fired you after only one season, all captured in front of a Thursday night prime time national audience.
Happy 54th birthday to Tennessee Titans interim head coach Mike Mularkey.
Thursday proved to be a less than memorable birthday experience for coach Mularkey, and the day after was no picnic either. The local media turned up the heat in Friday’s press conference, after the interim coach held firm to his belief that the 2-8 Titans are a good team…and must stay the course.
While that belief flies in the face of any football-literate fan with a working pair of eyes, coach Mularkey has no choice but to say that.
His hands are completely tied.
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At 2-8, and all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, a contingent of the local media wants coach Mularkey to give the young players more playing time. I am sure that plenty of Titans fans share that sentiment.
But that type of move is usually made by coaches with job security, because that type of move suggests that you will be around to coach the young players that you are trying to develop.
Coach Mularkey has zero job security, and the only way for him to gain some is by closing the season on a good note. To do that, he will need his battle tested players. He can ill afford to leave his coaching future in the hands of the Rico Richardson‘s, Tre McBride‘s, and Jeremiah Poutasi‘s of the world…even if he wanted to.
And let’s not forget about the front office…
In her first and only public statement since becoming controlling owner of the team, Amy Adams Strunk said that keeping their franchise rookie quarterback upright and healthy going forward was the main objective.
Ken Whisenhunt wasn’t fired because of his record, the Titans could have waited until the end of the season to do that. Ken Whisenhunt was fired after seven games because his offensive system was getting Marcus Mariota pummelled each week.
The front office fired the play caller, who just happened to be the head coach.
Coach Mularkey accepted the interim tag with the understanding that whatever he did, he must protect the quarterback. The easiest way to do that is by employing the ground and pound attack.
As it relates to protecting Mariota, the ground and pound approach method is working. Tennessee has allowed just five sacks since Mularkey took over, after being one of the most sacked teams in the league under Whisenhunt.
As it relates to winning games, the new approach has not worked. Tennessee was unable to get anything done on the ground against the Panthers two weeks ago, and could not pound the Jaguars with a physical run game late in Thursday night’s loss. Their only win under coach Mularkey was the result of Mariota throwing for nearly 400 yards in the Superdome three weeks ago.
Fans know what they see, so their pleas to open up the offense is justified. But even if he wanted to, coach Mularkey would have to open Mariota up to more hits to do that, which could be viewed as an act of insubordination by the front office.
Mike Mularkey is in a tough spot here. The Titans have basically asked him to keep their prize possession safe for the rest of the year, until they can find his replacement in the offseason.
Does he go down swinging, playing his players and doing things his way, knowing that he is committing career suicide in Tennessee? Or does he tote the company line and reside to be Mariota’s caretaker, and hope that the team can somehow ground and pound enough wins to get him another shot with another team down the road?
Either way, he’s gone at the end of the season. A no win situation for Mularkey.