Amid rumors that Head Coach Mike Mularkey was to be fired if the Titans lost against Kansas City in the Wild Card game last week, Owner Amy Adams-Strunk has come out and confirmed Mularkey will remain Titans Head Coach in 2018. Although concerns about Mularkey remain, there are replicable examples littered throughout the NFL that can be used as a template for this staff going forward.
The offensive struggles experienced this year could drive a Titans fan to drink. Watching this team struggle to move the ball at times was the visual equivalent to hearing nails on a chalkboard. An upset playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs cannot change that fact. A switch up on the offensive side of this staff is still needed. Even if only slightly.
Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie is almost certain to be let go. Quarterback coach Jason Michael and wide receiver coach Frisman Jackson may also share the same fate. While running back coach Sylvester Croom and offensive line coach Russ Grimm have seen more success out of their units than Michael and Jackson, they may be casualties of an offensive staff change as well. Marcus Mariota has struggled with his mechanics coming back from a broken lower left leg suffered in Week 16 of 2016. This is something Michael was unable to correct this year. Derrick Henry has consistently struggled with pass protection to the point where Demarco Murray, who is clearly the inferior back, continued to get unnecessary snaps throughout the year due to Henry’s inability to read the defense and pick up his assignment. After two seasons of tutelage under Croom, Henry’s continued struggles in this area have to be partially blamed on Croom at some point. The wide receivers on this team have been blamed for a majority of Mariota’s interceptions this year with Mularkey often saying that the receivers didn’t finish their route or ran the wrong route based on the coverage. Again, at some point, you have to put some blame on Jackson if the receivers are consistently not doing the right things. The offensive line was considered one of the top units in the league in 2016 under Grimm, but have since regressed.
The point is, while the players deserve a large chunk of the blame for these issues, it is obvious the coaches are not adjusting enough to fix them either. Whether the players are being asked to do too much or the coaches are not teaching what needs to be done correctly, to have these struggles turn into season-plaguing problems is unacceptable. The staff has to recognize that the players are not picking up what they are teaching and pivot to something that works. This lack of malleability highlights a stubbornness and lack of awareness that is maddening to the average Titan fan.
We have covered the faults of the staff, but to understand the blueprint we need to examine the positives as well. First, let’s look at Mularkey’s strengths. He is a leader of men. This is obvious when talking to any Titans player. The team really loves playing for Mularkey and he has the team’s buy-in. Often coaching is less about X’s and O’s and more about personalities and relationships. Mularkey understands this and does a great job cultivating a culture that embraces hard work and a team-first attitude. In the name of fairness, we must mention that Robiskie is running a Mularkey offense. One he ran in Atlanta as the offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011 and in Pittsburgh from 2001-2003. Using similar concepts as those two offenses have made the most modern style quarterback in the league look like a shell of his Heisman-winning self. The scheme is archaic and lacks creativity. This is another reason the mental mistakes are so frustrating. This offense is basic and simplistic, but the coaching staff finds a way to make it too complicated.
With that in mind, let’s look at a blueprint for how Mularkey can be retained, but also fix the offensive issues this team went through in 2017.
To make the adequate changes needed to continue an upward trend for this team, a completely new offensive system will be needed. This means a brand new offensive coordinator. Early this week I took a look at some potential options. Bringing in a fresh perspective would do wonders for this team.
The defense has improved under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. With the young players on defense starting to turn into the players GM Jon Robinson hoped they’d be, getting rid of LeBeau at this time would be a set back to the development of the players. Retaining LeBeau would be the best move.
If a new offensive staff is brought in and the defensive staff is retained, where does that leave Mularkey?
Right in his wheelhouse.
Mularkey can then focus on managing the coaches, creating plans for practice schedule, how the gameplan will be implemented and provide advice to each side of coaching as the scheme comes together each week. He can lead the players, be the face of the franchise and continue playing to his own personal strengths. We have seen this model work in Baltimore, Dallas and Pittsburgh. Head Coach Jon Harbaugh in Baltimore comes from a special teams background. He is not implicitly involved in the game plan for either side of the ball but is omnipresent in everything that goes on. He leads the team and manages the coach. This recipe has resulted in a Super Bowl Championship in 2013. Similarly, Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh has a defensive background, but Pittsburgh had Dick LeBeau and understudy Keith Butler running a successful defense. Tomlin has limited offensive experience so he is not imperative to the offensive scheming week to week. This allows him to lead the team, manage the environment around the team and help his assistants get their jobs done. Jason Garrett in Dallas has a set up almost exactly as outlined with Harbaugh and Tomlin. While Garrett’s previous career as an NFL quarterback gives him the requisite knowledge to assist on offense, he mostly lets offensive coordinator Scott Linehan handle the vast majority of game planning with Rod Marinelli manning the defensive coordinator spot. All three coaches have had their fair share of success using this model.
The template has been laid out for what the Titans should do next. By keeping the leader that Mularkey is, but having two coordinators who are more schematic-centric would allow Titans brass to have their cake and eat it too. There are some in the media who say if this option is presented to Mularkey he may step down. If this is the case then Robinson, who reportedly was required to keep Mularkey in order to get the Titans’ GM position, may finally get his wish to move on from Mularkey. Either way, if this type of philosophy is used, the Titans offense and team would benefit.