Should Tennessee Titans Hire an Offensive or Defensive Head Coach?

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31: Safety Kevin Byard
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31: Safety Kevin Byard /

With GM Jon Robinson’s first head coaching search well underway, an important question for the Tennessee Titans to ask is whether they should hire a coach with offensive or defensive experience to lead the team into a new era.

Over the course of two seasons, the Tennessee Titans have improved from having an awful defense and offense to a slightly above-average defense and an underperforming but talented offense. During Mike Mularkey’s tenure, the perennial bottom-dwelling Titans of the past became a hard-nosed, never-say-die team that clawed its way to two-consecutive 9-7 records and even won a playoff game. After he was offered a contract extension and then fired the next day, Amy Adams-Strunk released a statement saying that:

"We did discuss extending his future with our team over the past week, but in those discussions about the direction of the team, it became evident that we saw different paths to achieve greater success."

From this statement, it would seem that management hoped that they could extend Mularkey and convince him to make some changes on the coaching staff, but Mularkey evidently did not share this sentiment. Although the Mularkey era ended somewhat unceremoniously and many fans were frustrated with a team that they felt underachieved, Mularkey deserves a ton of credit for taking a sinking ship of a team and building a great foundation for what could become a championship team.

Sometimes a team has to let go of a coach who has brought success to find even more success. No franchise wants to end up like the Cincinnati Bengals, as they remain hitched to the mediocrity of Marvin Lewis for almost two decades. Two seasons ago, the Titans were one of the most undesirable coaching positions in the league. Now, Mularkey and GM Jon Robinson have developed a roster ripe with young talent that is learning how to win. Robinson and owner Amy Adams Strunk must strike while the iron is hot and reel in a great coach to take this roster from good to great.

Now that the Titans have begun to line up interviews, they should have few issues in finding a ton of eager candidates. Many Titans fans have been debating whether or not an offensive-minded or defensive-minded coach would be best to take this team to the next level. I’m not here to tell you which would be better, but I will provide some reasons why both should be considered for the future of this team.

Offensive Minded Head Coaches

Some Names Floating Around for Tennessee: Matt LaFleur, Josh McDaniels, Frank Reich, Jim Bob Cooter

Heading into 2017, quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Titans offense were supposed to take the next step towards elite status after a fantastic 2016 season. The team had added several new pieces including Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, Eric Decker, and Jonnu Smith, who were supposed to give Mariota a diverse set of pass catchers that he had never had at the pro level. DeMarco Murray, fresh off of a resurgent 2016 season, was to pair with Derrick Henry for one of the most fearsome running back tandems in the league. A top three offensive line from 2016 returned all of its starters. It was a perfect storm for offensive excellence.

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However, nearly every facet of the offense underwhelmed in 2017, outside of players like Delanie Walker, Derrick Henry, and Taylor Lewan. Mariota’s regression was astonishing, as he had difficulty with accuracy and decision-making for the first time in his career and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. This hurt the Titans’ receiving corps, but they also shouldered part of the blame with drops, miscommunications, and imprecise route-running on their part. Murray played hurt for a lot of the season and looked more like his 2015 counterpart than 2016, but despite being outplayed by Henry in every sense, Murray bafflingly held on to the lead role until injury forced him onto the sideline.

The inability or unwillingness of OC Terry Robiskie to change and update his scheme to suit the strengths of the roster sabotaged the entire offense and stifled the progression of his young players, especially Mariota. As the season dragged on, players even began to openly question play-calling and suggest that they would rather have Mariota direct the offense.

For this reason, an offensive-minded head coach makes a lot of sense for the Tennessee Titans. After all, the defense was held back by the talented but underachieving offense, so if the offense gets a shot in the arm, the defense won’t have to work so hard. A recent example can be found in L.A. and Minnesota, where two relatively inexperienced quarterbacks (Jared Goff and Case Keenum) were stymied by a stubborn head coach (Jeff Fisher), found new homes with great play calling and offensive schemes and played their way to the top of the NFC. With a quarterback of Mariota’s caliber and a number of very talented skill position players, an offensive coach could replicate the success of these teams.

Defensive-Minded Head Coaches

Some Names Floating Around for Tennessee: Steve Wilks, Mike Vrabel, Jim Schwartz

The Titans defense often held the team back in Mike Mularkey’s first year with the team, as the pass defense was abysmal and prevented Tennessee from hanging with top tier offenses. Over the offseason, Jon Robinson addressed this issue by signing Johnathan Cyprien and Logan Ryan before drafting Adoree’ Jackson to hopefully rectify the issue.

After a rocky start, the unit really began to gel as Jackson and Ryan became a very competent cornerback duo and Kevin Byard developed into a ball-hawking first team All-Pro on the back end. The front seven, highlighted by players like Wesley Woodyard, Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo, and Derrick Morgan, shut down opposing running games as Tennessee became the fourth-best rushing defense in the league and ranked fifth in the league with 43.0 sacks. The Titans have few real holes on the defensive side of the ball, but their defense just feels solid rather than dominant. This unit needs more stars. The defense needs players that opposing offenses have to play around. Casey is the closest thing this team has to that, although Byard might be getting close.

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A defensive-minded head coach can find great young talent and develop it until a player reaches that elite status. Although a great offensive mind can come in and develop a top-notch offense that runs up scores and puts a lot of points on the board, fans should be just as excited at the prospect of a great defensive mind coming to Nashville and creating a stifling defense, while assembling a staff that helps the offense improve as well. Outside of the New England Patriots in recent years, the teams that have won a Super Bowl like Denver, Seattle, and Baltimore had an elite, borderline historic defense to lean on. This year, of the four remaining teams, three of them (Jacksonville, Minnesota, and Philadelphia) all possess championship caliber defenses. There exists an oft-used phrase that “defense wins championships”, and in football this rings true unlike any other sport. By elevating the defense into another stratosphere under a defensive-minded head coach, the Titans can become perennial playoff contenders, even if the underachieving Titans offense of 2017 returns.

In summary, both avenues lead to success for the Titans, albeit in different manners. Jon Robinson has done everything in his power to bring success to Nashville and his coaching search should be no different. Although the offensive vs. defensive head coach debate could rage on until the end of time, let’s hope that whoever is hired assembles a fantastic coaching staff around him and continues to build on the success of Mike Mularkey to achieve even greater successes in time.

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