Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Jan 2018

Titans Part with HC Mike Mularkey

First reported by Field Yates of ESPN and subsequently confirmed by the team, the Tennessee Titans have parted ways with head coach Mike Mularkey. Mularkey became the interim coach following the firing of Ken Whisenhunt mid-season 2015 and was named the permanent head coach after a rubber-stamp process that offseason because of the work he did in going 2-7. He posted a record of 9-7 both seasons and went 1-1 in the playoffs this year.

Fifteen days ago, the Titans clinched their first playoff spot in nine seasons by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars. Nine days ago, the Titans won their first playoff game in 14 seasons by beating the Kansas City Chiefs. Eight days ago, the Titans released a statement in support of head coach Mike Mularkey. Two days ago, the Titans were thrashed by the New England Patriots, a defeat as unsurprising as it was exasperating they did the same things that had led their offense to regress from 2016 in the regular season rather than the things that worked against the Chiefs. One day ago, Mike Mularkey gave a head coach's normal end-of-season press conference, where he doubled down on the idea that the things he believed all the time were absolutely right, and his staff was doing a good job. Following the press conference, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the Titans had offered Mularkey a contract extension (per media reports, his existing contract ran through the 2018 season). Now, he is unemployed.

Criticism primarily centered around Mularkey's offense and the development of Marcus Mariota after the Titans went from 9th in DVOA in 2016 to 18th this season. Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, hired to that position for the first time since the 2004 Cleveland Browns, was the locus of much of the criticism, though the Titans were doing the same things Mularkey tried to do in his previous stops in Jacksonville, Atlanta, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh. When Mularkey doubled down on his perception of the quality of his staff and the (non-)necessity of making fundamental changes in what the Titans tried to do on offense, that was enough for controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk.

It seems likely that general manager Jon Robinson, hired after an actual search right before Mularkey was rubber-stamped, convinced Strunk of the need to make a change. Now, the focus shifts to the next Tennessee Titans head coach, and whether that will indeed be Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels with his apparent interest in the job and his experience working with Robinson in New England.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 15 Jan 2018

59 comments, Last at 25 Jan 2018, 9:25am by Mr Shush


by James-London :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:43am

Tom, Shylo,

Are you happier today than you were yesterday?

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Shylo :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:31pm

I didn't see this comment before making my post.

HELL! FUCKING! YES! (See my other comment for a slightly more fleshed out take)

by James-London :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:59pm

I thought you might be! The mood after those bizzare quotes from the press conference were released was bleak.Seems like the Titans have finally done the right thing...

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:05pm

Does Field Yates have a brother named "Boundary"?

by jtr :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:38pm

His British cousin Pitch Yates covers the English Premier League.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:17pm

"Now, the focus shifts to the next Tennessee Titans head coach, and whether that will indeed be Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels with his apparent interest in the job and his experience working with Robinson in New England."

Jesus, why?

Coaches in the Belichick tree:

Romeo Crennel - 22-55
Nick Saban - 15-17
Josh McDaniels - 11-17
Eric Mangini - 33-47
Bill O'Brien - 31-33
Scott Pioli - (23-41)*
Charlie Weis - 41-49*

At best these guys are mediocre. At worse, they are franchise-killers. There are a lot more of the latter than the former.

by johonny :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:21pm

Nick Saban's been great in college and O'Brien was good there too. In the NFL you realy need a QB. It's why Saban took a quick exit from Miami. The good news is, in Tennessee there's a strong belief that they have their QB. It's an attractive job. I still think McDaniels is heir apparent in New England...but they no longer have an heir apparent QB so maybe he finally leaves.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:37pm

Saban's success is mostly in recruiting. He did better at Alabama than at LSU, and better at LSU than at Michigan State. He loses down more than he wins up, and does better at schools that don't require their players to be able to read. Chip Kelly and Bobby Petrino are of the same ilk, but are better actual coaches.

O'Brien did okay weathering the storm at Penn State, but both of his teams were bottom half in team history.

Weis went 16-21 in his last three years at Notre Dame and was (lol) 6-22 at Kansas. He wasn't even their best fat coach in this century.

O'Brien is about the best of the haul. He's full of 9-7 bullshit despite being spotted a dominant defense and the worst division in football.

by xydux :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:11pm

His 9-7 bullshit has gotten them to the playoffs twice without a quarterback. This year was his worst year, and he lost JJ Watt, another defensive stud whose name I can't remember, and a quarterback who was looking phenomenal through like six games.

Honestly it's tough to say whether O'Brien is actually good, but he got to the playoffs with Brian Hoyer as his main starter one year and Brock Osweiler as his main starter another year. He's nowhere near where Pagano was a couple years ago (11-5 bullshit with a good QB).

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:17pm

No one in the division has a QB.

Not a healthy one, anyway.

by MC2 :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:30am

"Not having a decent QB" is often a reasonable excuse for a coach failing, but in this particular case, I don't think it will fly. After all, O'Brien came in with a reputation as a "QB guru" and was hired, in large part, specifically to either find or develop a QB. Yet for his first 3 years, he failed abysmally in that regard, and even this year, I'm not sure how much credit he should be given for Watson.

After all, it wasn't like O'Brien identified Watson as a franchise QB, and then went out and moved heaven and earth to make sure he got him. In fact, Watson basically fell into O'Brien's lap, after 4 QB-needy teams (Browns, Bears, 49ers, and Jets) all passed on him. And even then, O'Brien had so little confidence in Watson that he chose to begin the year with Tommy "The Macho Man" Savage as his starting QB. Given all that, O'Brien's vaunted QB expertise seems to me to be significantly overstated.

by johonny :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 3:03pm

I'm sorry you're right. Bill Belichick is only 36-44 as a head coach. Why'd anyone like the Patriots want a retread like that? Do I even have to list the failed members of the Bill Parcels tree. Ray Handley anyone! The Pats will rue the day they ever let Belichick touch their franchise...oops.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:22pm

This is such a strange argument. And at a site focused on statistical analysis!

Especially since it sweeps Nick Saban's record as a college coach aside as unworthy of consideration.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:39pm

Saban is a great GM. But any coach can win with a massive talent advantage. (see Spurrier, Steve)

I can imagine a world where he's actually Pete Carroll, but I think it's more likely that he's more like Belichick's other coordinators.

I'm not sure why. It's possible that Belichick keeps command-and-control pretty tight to the vest, so his coordinators never get exposed to that part of the program and then flail at it when they get the reins. Maybe they can't handle adversity, because they've never been exposed to it. Maybe Belichick is like a rich-man's Hue Jackson, a paranoiac who only hires guys who are incapable of replacing him. Maybe they're just Peter-Principled. Coughlin's tree (a guy like Belichick) is similarly bereft.

Maybe it's just me, but I'd vastly prefer to hire from the Holmgren/Reid tree. Those guys all have weird tics about clock-management and short-yardage, but seem vastly better at the game prep and player management aspects of the game than Belichick's guys.

by Anger...rising :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 8:45pm

But any coach can win with a massive talent advantage. (see Spurrier, Steve)

The guy who won at Duke and South Carolina is not the proper target for such a swipe.

by dryheat :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:09pm

On the flip side, besides Pioli, GMs off the Belichick tree include Newsome, Robinson, Dimitroff, and Quinn. So there seems to be better success there.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:31pm

Quinn looks to have fired the best Lions HC in 40 years and the 2nd-best black HC in the league (a matter of some small importance in Detroit) for Matt Patricia.

The others are more reputable.

How is Newsome on Belichick's tree? They only share 1995 with the Browns (Newsome retired as a player before Belichick joined), when Newsome was director of pro personnel and Belichick was HC. He was arguably Belichick's superior.

by t.d. :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:42pm

think i might actually take fontes over caldwell (detroit only), though it's close

by IAmJoe :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 11:39pm

Quinn is almost inarguably the best GM the Lions have had in 40 years, for that matter. "the best Lions coach in 40 years" is more an indictment of the Lions than a particular reason to keep Caldwell around.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:05am

I don’t think firing a head coach you inherited (who hasn’t won a playoff game since 2009, BTW), is a reason to dismiss someone as a GM. It will probably take a couple years to see how his drafts pan out, and only then can we judge him. As far as free agent signings go, he’s avoided over-paying big name guys who end up not being worth it, and Marvin Jones was a home run. Wagner and T.J Lang played well when they weren’t hurt.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:26am

I'm not dinging him for his drafts, although I place the blame on the Lions inability run the ball more on the front office (Quinn/Mayhew) than on Caldwell.

But I think Quinn was cavalier in letting Caldwell go and doesn't fully understand what he had. Caldwell inherited a talented but undisciplined team in disarray and immediately took them to their ~5th best season in franchise history (they've never finished better than 8 games over .500). This team was busted apart the year after because it was in cap hell, because the NFL loves screwing the Lions with its rule changes (new rookie contracts came in as soon as the Lions stopped drafting in the top-3). His worst finish after that implosion was 7-9.

Caldwell's career performance isn't much different from Sean Payton. I think the Lions should have been more careful in casually discarding him.

by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 2:20pm

" ~5th best season in franchise history"

You keep saying stuff like this like its meaningful - it's essentially an argument that because the Lions have such a terrible history, trying to improve is a problem.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 2:35pm

The Lions have essentially never improved from Caldwell's current success, with a brief exception in their pre-Ford high-water mark of the 1950s. In short, he's not the problem.

I'm arguing that this is more like firing Parcells. Yeah, Belichick was better, but would New England have been right to fire Parcells after 1996?

The Lions are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Reliable coaches are hard to find.

by dryheat :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:35am

I'm not sure on the timeline (or power structure), but Newsome has said many times that he learned how to be a GM from working with Belichick. Perhaps he's just being overly deferential, or maybe it doesn't qualify as part of the "tree", but BB's influence on Newsome is significant.

I didn't mean to raise Quinn to the level of the other guys, but he does seem to be well-regarded. I was simply trying to list the ones currently in a GM, Director of Personnel, or similar role. Jason Licht also worked under Belichick for years, but I don't think he got his start there.

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:17am

Josh McDaniels had a misunderstood stint with the Broncos. He ran an incredible offense there: remember Brandon Lloyd had the 2nd most DYAR in 2010, and Kyle Orton was a perennial top-ten QB (usually exactly #10, but that's still impressive). McDaniels is a fine coach.

McDaniels the GM, however, made Matt Millen look competent. McDaniels the GM is absolutely a franchise destroyer. Among his many, many retarded moves was trading up in the first round to draft Tebow. The pick he traded became Earl Thomas.

Unless his next team is going to make the same mistake and give him GM powers--and I certainly hope he's smart enough to turn them down if they did--we need to separate McDaniels the GM from McDaniels the coach, because they were performing on very, very different levels.

by Richie :: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 1:55pm

On the other hand, just because a coach is in the Belichick tree doesn't mean he CAN'T become a good head coach.

by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:40pm

really thought mularkey was loiusy ehad coach. good job bty titans finally realizing this., could be deadly offense 2018 fi get scatback to pair with d. henry. need a chris Thompson/Darren sproles type there and one more good receiv er. maybe can get allen robinson

by mehllageman56 :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:13pm

While I think the Titans can do better, there may be other issues with this. ESPN is reporting that the split was mutual. Was the extension too small for Mularkey to accept? After all, the Titans are the cheapest franchise in the NFL, not the Bengals as some believe. https://overthecap.com/salary-cap-flexibility/

by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:23pm

"The split was mutual" is often little more than a face-saving statement for the person being fired.

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:05am

If I'm getting fired, I generally won't want to hang around there anymore either. Definitely mutual at that point

by Shylo :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:34pm

I'm more likely to believe the extension was contingent on him firing certain staff (Terry Robiskie) or the extension offered was too short for him. Mularkey was already a cheap date as our coach, and he only had a 3 year deal to begin with.

by CaffeineMan :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:45pm

I'm hearing comments to this effect on talk radio as well. I don't always agree with Pat Kirwan on SiriusXM, but he's usually reasonable plugged in with certain coaches. He claimed that Mularkey left Buffalo because he was presented with the same option: change staff or you're out. I'm not sure if Mularkey was being forced to get rid of Lebeau, but I can see them wanting to get rid of Robiskie. So Mularkey opted out. Anyway that's one possible explanation for the "mutual parting of ways."

by Shylo :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 8:09pm

Dick Lebeau is about one of the last coaches I'd cite as a problem with the Titans. His defenses are exploitable and Belichick killed him again in the playoffs, but he was great compared to Mularkey and Robiskie. The defense was what got us to 9 wins this season and he did a good job with what we had. It was a far cry from the mess last season with worse talent.

by xydux :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:13pm

Honestly, I'm glad. The Titans this year had all the ingredients to be interesting: up-and-coming QB, strong O-line/running game, beautiful color scheme–but watching them was a slog. Somehow, the Titans were one of the most boring teams in the NFL, and the most boring team in the playoffs. Good riddance.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:21pm

The only time they were ever interesting is whenever they fell behind, which forced them to abandon that “exotic smash mouth” nonsense and go pass-heavy. I’m not willing to give up on Mariota yet. I think he can be really good with the right scheme and coaching.

by RickD :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 1:24pm

What does this say about Andy Reid?

by jtr :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:47pm

That he's still a better coach than Mike Mularkey. Sometimes bad coaches beat good coaches. Rex Ryan shut out the Patriots at home in 2016, that doesn't mean that he's a better coach than Belichick.

by Shylo :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 2:26pm

I'm so fucking glad. Marcus deserves better than this dead-end offense, and Mularkey was too stubborn with Robiskie, not to mention throwing his players under the bus, and leaving Mariota to die at the end of the Patriots game.

I thank him for taking us back up to mediocrity. Now it's time for the next coach to finish the job.

by t.d. :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 4:45pm

as a fan of a division rival, i was thrilled they were keeping him, so take take that as you will

by Mr Shush :: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 9:23pm


by Kulko :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 3:00am

Funny how People seem to assume Josh looks back at his denver days with thinking Man I was Superman back in these days.

One Thing BB should foster is a culture of self-criticism probabaly even self-refelection. So I am quite confident that Josh has dozen learning points from those years and he is still young enoug to learn from his mistakes.

So of course he is no sure thing, but he sure is better than going forward with Mularkey and he has potential to be a good coach still.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:17am

Apparently Ian Rappaport is reporting that Mularkey is expected to be the Browns’ next offensive coordinator...which would be one of the Brownsiest hiring ever.

by jtr :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 9:35am

UGH. Tanier closed this week's MMD with a great rant about how the NFL needs to stop recycling the same couple dozen guys over and over again. This is the worst example of it yet this offseason. We know exactly who Mike Mularkey is at this point, and he's not going to save your offense. He showed with Mariota that he is particularly poorly suited for designing an offense for an athletic QB who can make plays with his arm or his feet--you know, exactly what they're hoping Kizer can be.
The Browns could make a deep search into college ranks, position coaches, and so on to find someone with fresh ideas. Instead, they're going for the least-inspiring retread on scrap pile. They just went freaking 0-16, and they're still trying to make the safe play. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE. YOU LITERALLY CANNOT BE WORSE NEXT SEASON THAN YOU WERE THIS SEASON. TAKE A F*CKING CHANCE.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:41am

It's hard to make a Rooney Rule rant and simultaneously point the finger at Hue Jackson.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:11pm

Lol, just to add fuel to your fire, Mary Kay Cabot is reporting that the Browns are also going to interview Ben McAdoo for OC.

Maybe Hue's strategy really is to hire someone who can't possibly usurp him. Like a dictator who chooses some incompetent lackey as his 2nd in command.

by jtr :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:27pm

Hue ran this season without any offensive coordinator at all, which is the ultimate you-can't-fire-me move. Not having a successor at all is even better job security than having a terrible successor! He hinted earlier that he might not hire one at all this offseason, but I'm guessing the FO put pressure on him to hire somebody. At the very least it makes him fireable when they're 0-9 next November.

Also, can anyone think of a team going without an offensive or defensive coordinator? Even guys like Rex Ryan and Chip Kelly who obviously run one side of the ball will still have a coordinator.

by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 3:34pm

If this was Hue Jackson's plan (to not have an offensive coordinator who could take over when he gets fired), then hiring guys who got head coaching jobs by being the offensive coordinator when the head coach got fired isn't a good plan. Honestly, I'm surprised he didn't have an acolyte set up as offensive coordinator two years ago, given how successful the Bengals' offense was when Jackson was there.

by Shylo :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 3:10pm

In Mularkey's case, he wasn't even the offensive coordinator! He was the TE coach. Jason Michael was offensive coordinator, and he got kicked down to QB coach on Mularkey's staff.

by Mr Shush :: Thu, 01/25/2018 - 9:25am

The 2005 Patriots did not have a formal offensive coordinator.

by stoste :: Tue, 01/16/2018 - 1:29pm

This can only be good for the Titans, and Mariota in particular, going forward. I'm not expecting him to turn into an elite QB next year but I'm hopeful we can find the right coach develop Mariota and build on the potential this team has. I'm going to assume the new OC we bring in will bring in some innovation and ambition to the offensive scheme as I've watched all our games this season and even as a fan it has been a massive struggle. I salute those good people who went to our games because outside of when we switched to hurry up, it was turgid to sit through.

by jtr :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 1:41pm

Mods, can you make a coordinator carousel XP thread? Lots of hires, fires, retentions, and rumors floating around that aren't necessarily worth an XP on their own but still worth discussing.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 4:35pm

Haley's gone in Pittsburgh.

by serutan :: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:13am

And there was much rejoicing in the Roethlisberger household...
Was wr

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:45am

enough evidence with chiefs and steelers now to think t. haley abrasive. seems tough to work with and certainly b. Roethlisberger liked to throw Haley under bus a lot.

Haley makes odd 4th down calls here and therer but can rip almost any coordinatyor if u want. fans do it akll the time. very very popular thing for fans to crush their team's coordinators. like, fi nto win super bowl recently or not currently looking like super bowl team, guaranteed that tema's corrdiatnortors getting destroyed by fanbase.

by jtr :: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 2:24pm

Steelers beat writers seem pretty convinced that QB coach Randy Fichtner is going to get the job. Looks like the plan here is to more or less stick to the same scheme but replace the abrasive Haley with somebody that Roethlisberger knows and likes. I was not a fan of Haley's playcalling, so I'll be happy to see a new hand at that. Check out this sequence from week one against the Browns:

1&10 PIT 26 Ben Roethlisberger pass complete short right to Eli Rogers for 2 yards (tackle by Trevon Coley). Penalty on JuJu Smith-Schuster: Offensive Holding, 10 yards
1&18 PIT 18 Ben Roethlisberger pass complete short right to Antonio Brown for 3 yards (tackle by Jamar Taylor)
2&15 PIT 21 Ben Roethlisberger pass complete short left to Martavis Bryant for 2 yards (tackle by Jason McCourty). Penalty on Vance McDonald: Offensive Holding, 10 yards
2&25 PIT 11 Ben Roethlisberger pass incomplete short right intended for Martavis Bryant
3&25 PIT 11 Ben Roethlisberger pass complete short middle to Antonio Brown for 9 yards (tackle by Derrick Kindred)

Four straight WR screens followed by a drive route on 3&25! They really need somebody with a little bit less of a WR screen fetish.

by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 01/17/2018 - 10:41pm

John Morton is out in New York. Apparently he passed too much for Todd Bowles' taste. If only they'd hired a run first guy, the Jets would be taking Rosen or Darnold. Ok, the Browns still would have gotten the first pick, but the Giants did win 3, didn't they?

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 8:45am

Of all the problems the Jets have, I would think OC is the least of them, considering what he had to work with and pre-season expectations. McCown was having one of his better seasons before he got hurt, ASJ had a fine season, and Robby Anderson emerged as a star WR1 (who would think before the season that any Jets player would feature on multiple fantasy football rosters?).

This firing had to be about personality clashes and style..because it sure doesn't seem like it was about results.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 11:42am

wrote on tiwtter that Morton admitted to quiting night or day after Denver game. then wnet on to coach like drunk moron rest of season. Did not want this guy going backt o Oakland after I saw jets-broncos game (do record and watch all nyj and nyg games0, his comment,,. and then nto be able to get anything doen with b. petty as qb. possibly says more about petty than Morton btu still big concern.

also you seem to
think rosen and darnolh are answer.s
am not sujre about wirther oen fot hem. actually like Mayfield and allen more. though allen has moist bust potential. is like wilf horse right now. some acduracy problems btu highlight film looks as impressive as any college qb ever. leik if you just took like 20 iof allen's best plays, he wodul look like next Elway. think l. Jackson if coached right will be better too.

am hoping brobocs do not take Mayfield or allen. am joping for darnold or rosen to go to Denver

by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 01/18/2018 - 6:34pm

You should hope the Broncos take Allen. Quarterbacks that cannot complete 60 percent of their passes in college almost always do not work out. The only exceptions I can think of are Matt Ryan and Ryan Tannehill. Matt Ryan played in a deep passing attack in cold weather (Boston), and Tannehill switched from being a receiver to being a quarterback his sophomore year. Not only does Allen only complete 56 percent of his passes, he has footwork as bad as Baker Mayfield's. He also can barely read defenses. Lamar Jackson also has poor completion statistics in college, but he has great footwork and the ability to read defenses, as well as great athletic ability. Jackson is a much better prospect than Allen, as are Rosen, Darnold, Mayfield, Rudolph, Falk, Riley Ferguson, Kyle Lauletta and Mike White from Western Kentucky. All of them have flaws (hell, Tom Brady has flaws), but all of them have a better chance of being a solid starter in the NFL than this guy who's supposed to go in the first five picks.