This move is a bit surprising.
Just two days after their loss to the New England Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans have “mutually agreed” to part ways with head coach Mike Mularkey, according to a report from ESPN’s Field Yates.
ESPN had previously reported that Mularkey and the Titans were engaged in contract extension talks, so things had to have changed significantly in less than 24 hours. In a statement posted on the team’s website, controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said that the decision came from a difference in what direction to take the franchise.
“It is certainly unfortunate that we couldn’t find enough common ground,” she said. “I generally believe that continuity is the best path for success, but I also view this as an important moment for our football team as we try to make that next step to sustained success on the field. [General manager] Jon [Robinson] will begin the search immediately to identify that person.”
Mularkey had finished his third seasons as Titans heads coach. He took over as interim head coach midway through 2015 after the team fired Ken Whisenhunt following a 1-6 start. They were 2-7 to close out the season, and Mularkey was kept on at the beginning of the offseason.
The Titans finished 9-7 in 2016, their best record since 2011. They matched that again this season and made the playoffs, beating the Kansas City Chiefs in the wildcard round before the loss to the Patriots on Saturday. It was their first postseason victory since 2003 and their first appearance since 2008.
While Mularkey was 20-21 as Titans head coach, he had two winning seasons in three overall, and the team had become competitive under his direction. However, the offense seemed to take a step back this season; Marcus Mariota‘s passing numbers were mixed as a whole, partially due to playing through injuries but also because of the playcalling. NFL insider Ian Rapoport speculated that the disagreement between Strunk and Mularkey stemmed from his refusal to replace offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie.
In any case, it’s a little bizarre to see a coach get let go by a team despite getting them to the second round of the playoffs. Perhaps the Titans are targeting a specific replacement that they feel strongly about. Could Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels be that guy?
Whoever the team gets to replace him will have a pretty nice setup though. The defense is fairly balanced, and the offense has a solid offensive line and a number of young weapons. With the right coach in place, the Titans could easily return to the playoffs sooner rather than later.
Edit: an earlier version of this post had defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau as the featured image instead of Mularkey. Apologies for the error.