On November 3, 2015, the Titans relieved then-head coach Ken Whisenhunt from his duties as head coach, and announced that their tight ends coach, Mike Mularkey, would be his temporary replacement. Five days later, the team traveled to New Orleans, where they beat the Saints in an overtime thriller. What ensued after Mularkey’s magical first game as interim head-coach was a medley of meltdowns, miscommunication, and plain ineptitude; the Titans lost a dismal eight of their next nine games in which they were outscored 236-140. The franchise seemed to be in a state of complete dysfunction from top to bottom.
Amazingly, just over a year later, the future seems to be brighter than ever in Music City. After taking down the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Titans currently sit at 7-6, tied with Houston for first place in the AFC South. With a quarterback that’s as hot as anyone at his position in the NFL, the AFC’s leading rusher, and a talented (and healthy) front seven, the Titans are poised to win the division and bring a home playoff game to Nashville for the first time since 2008.
A few weeks ago I asked Mike Mularkey to put into words just how far this team, a team that won a total of five games from 2014-2015, has come since he took over last year. “What’s different? A lot. There’s been a lot of change. Still more to come, but a lot’s different; roster, coaching, staff, our mentality, and I think our identity has changed. There’s just been a lot of change; I think we’re on the right track, and I hope people see that.”
Though he would not go as far as to call this year’s team unrecognizable compared to last year’s, he did concede that “it’s certainly different; I can tell you that the mood in here has been very positive.” Mularkey also noted that over forty players had been at the facility that day, which happened to be a day off for the team.
It is undeniable that acquisitions like DeMarco Murray, Jack Conklin, Josh Kline, and Kevin Byard have tremendously helped the Titans. But the thing that most distinguishes the 2016 Titans from the dreadful teams of the past few years is their identity; not necessarily what their identity is, but the fact that they have one in the first place.
When first year general manager Jon Robinson took over back in February, he emphatically declared that the Titans want players who are smart, tough, coachable, and have a team-first mentality. However, it’s one thing to say what you want your roster to look like and another to actually shape a roster based on those qualities. That is precisely what Robinson has done in his short time with the team.
Not only has Robinson acquired selfless players, but his treatment of the NFL Draft and free agency shows just how much he himself believes in the old cliche of “no man above the team.” Robinson had the first overall pick of the draft and plenty of room in the salary cap when he took over as general manager. Instead of using the pick to draft a potential game changing superstar, he traded down to acquire more picks, which translates to more players. And, instead of dishing out a large amount of money to someone like Malik Jackson or Janoris Jenkins that would have taken up a good amount of cap space, Robinson signed players like Rishard Matthews and Ben Jones who didn’t command inordinate cap space, but are quality football players nonetheless.
It hasn’t been long since fans and media members alike criticized the Titans for hiring Mike Mularkey as head coach on a permanent basis and considered the franchise to be completely in a jumble. Now, the franchise is undeniably in sync from ownership, to management, to coaching. and to the players. They’ll carry momentum from Sunday’s monumental victory into Kansas City, where the Titans will look to win their third game in a row against the supremely talented 10-3 Chiefs.