Nashville, Tenn. - The Titans and Mike Mularkey say they mutually parted ways Monday. But let's get real, this was a firing of a coach that just took his team to its first playoff appearance in nine years and then won a game to reach the NFL's final eight.
On the surface it seems like Mularkey got a raw deal, but he left the Titans without much of an option.
There is no denying that Mularkey did a remarkable job changing the culture at St. Thomas Sports Park, winning over the locker room and building a winner. A Titans team that won a total of 18 games in the four years before he was officially given the title of head coach won 19 in two seasons under Mularkey.
His preferred smashmouth style was sometimes ugly and wasn't popular among fans, but helped a team that was outmanned for many years get off the mat and become competitive once again. The offense struggled in his second season, but I'm not sure that's entirely on Mularkey or his coaching staff.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota was hurt and so was reigning AFC rushing champ DeMarco Murray. Top draft pick Corey Davis missed the first half of the season due to injury and the offensive line didn't come close to matching its performance of a year ago. Some of that may be on the coaching, but circumstances and players simply underperforming also played large roles.
Mularkey earned the right to continue as the team's head coach and see if he could take them to the next level. But it was also entirely reasonable for owner Amy Adams Strunk and general manager Jon Robinson to ask for changes, especially on the offensive side of the ball where the Titans, for whatever reason, regressed in every single area this season.
But Mularkey was unwilling to even entertain the idea, seemingly feeling jilted that Adams Strunk and Robinson allowed rumors that he was coaching for his job late in the season to take on a life of their own and become a distraction for himself, his family and his team.
It's hard to fault Mularkey for being wary. In his two previous stops as a head coach he was fired two years into a rebuilding job in Buffalo after going 14-18 and then was dismissed 12 games into a winless first season as coach of the lowly Jaguars. For a time, Mularkey felt like his situation in Nashville was different, that team management had his back and that they were in it together.
But that changed when the silence, both publicly and within the building, in the face of those rumors reached deafening levels during a three game losing streak in December. Even beating Jacksonville to reach the playoffs in week 17 didn't end the speculation.
That's why Mularkey spoke out, saying he "feared the worst" following the Titans comeback win over the Chiefs in an AFC Wild Card playoff game. And that's what led to Adams Strunk's statement of support the next day.
The Titans were prepared to offer Mularkey a contract extension as the team's head coach, but the trust was already lost. When internal conversations about the future of the team turned to staff changes and opening up the offense, Mularkey dug in telling the media in his season ending press conference that he did not plan to make any changes.
At that point it was clear that there was no bringing the two sides together and Mularkey had to go. His dismissal was not for his coaching performance over the last two seasons, but rather his resistance to the change his bosses and fans wanted moving forward.
Mularkey deserved the right to be a part of the conversations on how the Titans could build off their playoff run. But evidently he decided he didn't want to be a part of the team's chosen new direction.
And so the Titans were left with no choice. And the coach that brought them stability and their first postseason appearance in nearly a decade was shown the door.
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