Instead of arguing with folks on Twitter for the next two weeks about the same thing over and over, I’ve decided to write all of my reasons for keeping Mike Mularkey on as Titans coach for another season. It’s not a popular take, but I’m going to lay out my reasons, one by one, here.
Ken Whisenhunt got less than two years as Titans coach, but he never showed progress in his tenure. There are very few times when a coach doesn’t deserve three years to right a ship, and that was one of them. it takes less time to build a team in the NFL than it does in college, but with how awful the Titans roster was in 2015, I think three years is ample time to see if a coach is going to be able to win a Super Bowl. It allows time for a coach to implement his scheme and philosophy and also adjust that philosophy if needed.
Mularkey is going to have to adjust some things offensively next season, and probably get a new offensive coordinator. If he refuses to adjust, he will be gone, but his record to this point has bought him enough time to try.
Overachieving first season
Mularkey improved a 3-13 team to 9-7 in one season. The Titans were the worst team in the league in 2014 and 2015. Much of the credit in the turnaround goes to Jon Robinson for filling holes in the roster, but to improve that much in one year requires more than a personnel overhaul (The Cincinnati Bengals have tons of talent all over the place and they can’t get it right). There are also still holes that need to be filled. Guard, cornerback depth, running back, and unfortunately, receiver are still needs for this team.
I picked the Titans to go 9-7 before the season started because I believed they would regress to the mean a bit. They played out of their minds in 2016, and I felt that it would be hard to progress more this season considering their position in 2015.
The 2016 season alone bought Mularkey two more years, but a winning record this year would only cement that.
His Willingness to Change Coming into Tennessee
Paul Kuharsky of Paulkuharsky.com has said multiple times that Mularkey has changed a lot of things since his time in Jacksonville when Paul covered the entire division instead of just the Titans. He said he’s better with his guys and less strict on things that he used to be. He puts more importance on important things. That change has gotten Mularkey very far in the locker room. The team respects him and has bought into his philosophy to this point.
Mularkey is at a point where he’s going to have to make more changes, and some will have to come with his scheme, not just his rules. Will he do that? I don’t know, but it’s encouraging that he’s been willing to before.
He’ll Have a Healthy, more Mobile Marcus Mariota
Marcus Mariota is much better when he has the ability to move. A lot of people say that Mularkey’s offense with Mariota doesn’t work, but it’s actually the opposite. When Marcus is a threat to run, Mularkey’s offense is at its’ best, and Marcus is at his best. He implemented the read option and RPO very nicely last season. This year, Marcus isn’t running, and defenses don’t seem to be worried about it. It’s the third dimension that makes Mularkey’s offense click in the modern day NFL. Without Mariota’s running ability, Mularkey’s offense is pretty much what we see. Lots of guys in the box stuffing plays that run up the middle. There is no threat of running on the off tackle, which creates a difficult time for Murray and Henry (along with poor guard play).
Mariota at 100% is a different beast. We saw it last season. This offense was not stagnant at all, it was the very opposite.
I’ve been hit with the “You’re accepting mediocrity because you’ve been conditioned to accept it.” line way too many times. It’s just not true. In the end, I’m NOT okay with 9-7 seasons. I’m okay with a couple of 9-7 seasons now. After a two and three win season when the franchise was was in the depths of the NFL. Next year, I won’t be okay with 9-7. Next year, 9-7 won’t be good enough. It’s important to remember where we came from. It’s important to remember the pit this franchise was in and how quickly it got out of that pit.
The Oilers were 8-8 in 1997 and 1998. They needed a little bit of time to get over the hump. It takes context to understand when 9-7 is acceptable. Right now, it’s completely acceptable. Next year, it won’t be.
And don’t hit me with the “The Titans could easily be 5-9 right if they weren’t so lucky.” Yea, they could be. They could also be 11-3 if it weren’t for a few bad calls in the Dolphins and 49ers game. It goes both ways, people.