The Titans have been on a steady march the past two years, climbing from the worst record in the NFL in 2015 to back to back 9-7 seasons and the team’s first playoff appearance since 2008 this year.
But that was not enough to save head coach Mike Mularkey’s job. The team decided to part ways with the veteran coach Jan. 15th, two days after a 35-14 loss to the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Players spoke to the media for the first time about that move Wednesday in a Newschannel 5 exclusive from the Pro Bowl.
“I was surprised. I felt like we had a good thing going with coach Mularkey and the success we had and all,” Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard said. “But at the same time we understand it’s a business and you have to move on.”
The team moved on quickly from Mularkey, hiring Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel to replace him in less than a week. The 42-year-old Ohio native spent 14 years as a player in this league, winning three Super Bowls with the Patriots and has already made a positive impression.
“I mean he won three Super Bowls with the Patriots, so I’m anxious to talk with him and pick his brain,” Byard said. “And hopefully we can build that same type of winning culture in Tennessee.”
Vrabel has not finalized his coaching staff yet, but initial indications are that he doesn’t plan to completely overhaul what the Titans already do well.
The new head coach says he wants to keep running the football a focal point of the offense, mixing in more of the play-action pass and other things that quarterback Marcus Mariota does well. On defense, he plans to be multiple in his alignments, but will stick to some of the 3-4 principles Titans players are used to.
“He’s gonna bring toughness, physicality, being relentless, that’s what he preaches,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “If that’s his mindset, we already do it, so I think he’s going to fit in perfectly and get us going.”
Titans players believe Vrabel’s no nonsense style will hold players accountable and help them reach a new level collectively.
“He’s the type of guy who don’t care who you are, what position you play,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. “He wants get you to do more to help the team. And that’s the type of coach this team needs, a guy who don’t care who you are and push guys to the limit.”
The bottom line is even with a coaching change the players believe the Titans continue to be headed in the right direction.
The goal has not changed, the Titans want to bring a Super Bowl title home to Tennessee. They made great strides under the Mularkey regime and believe Vrabel can help them take the next step towards becoming one of the NFL’s elite teams.
“Nothing else but playoffs and Super Bowls from here on out, man,” Casey said. “We can’t take no steps backward. We have the players in position, so let’s keep on getting better. That’s what it’s all about.”