When the Tennessee Titans ownership decided it wanted to make a change in the direction of the team, it was Mike Mularkey who was given an a few edicts by ownership when he was named the interim head coach last week. Included in the the message from Amy Adams-Strunk was the possibility that if things go well for Mularkey and the team the remained of the season, that interim title could be removed and Mularkey could once again have an opportunity to be a full-time NFL head coach.
Mularkey has been a head coach before, twice in fact with stints as head coach of the Buffalo Bills (2004-05) and the Jacksonville Jaguars (2012), but neither one ended as Mularkey had hoped.
In 2004, Mularkey left the Steelers and was hired by the Buffalo Bills to succeed Gregg Williams as the team's head coach. Mularkey started out his first campaign as Bills head coach with a record of 0–4. He rallied his team to a 9–7 record by the end of the season, however, sparked by a six-game winning streak during which the Bills scored more points than in any other similar stretch in franchise history. However, a loss to the Steelers in the final game of the season kept the Bills out of the playoffs.
His second season as the Bills head man was far less successful. A quarterback controversy and other problems led the team to a 5–11 finish and a sixth consecutive year out of the playoffs - the longest such active streak in the AFC at that time. While Mularkey's offensive schemes were touted by the Bills front office, and the team finishing 24th in total offense that season, things were not good for the head coach..
On January 12, 2006, Mularkey resigned as head coach of the Bills, citing a disagreement in the direction of the organization, who had recently hired new management, including ex-head coach and Buffalo legend Marv Levy.
Mularkey would spend the 2006 and 2007 seasons as the offensive coordinator and tight ends coach in Miami before moving to Atlanta to become their offensive coordinator from 2008 until 2011.
In 2012 Mularkey would get another chance to be a head coach in the NFL when on January 11, 2012, Mularkey accepted the head coaching job for Jacksonville. His firstas the Jaguars head coach came in Week 3 of the when Jacksonville defeated the Colts.
The remainer of the season would prove challenging for Mularkey and on January 10, 2013, the Jaguars terminated Mularkey after only one season. He had led the team to a 2–14 record. Mularkey had two years remaining on a three-year contract. However, Jaguars management decided that the Jaguars needed "an immediate and clean restart" after winning only seven games in the past two seasons.
After sitting out the 2013 season, Mularkey returned to the NFL when he was hired as the tight ends coach for the Titans under Ken Whisenhunt.
Now Mularkey, who has always been considered a very good offensive mind was tabbed to lead the Titans when Whisenhunt was terminated.
One of those edicts Mularkey received when he was named interim head coach was to protect the franchise in rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The former Heisman winner had taken far to many hits through the first five games of the season, including seven sacks in week two by the Cleveland Browns.
Mariota would suffer a knee injury in the loss to Miami and almost inexplicably he was left in the game by Whisenhunt, leading to him missing two games with a grade two MCL sprain.
The Titans would lose both games without Mariota, but the final straw that lead to the firing of Whisenhunt was the beating that back-up quarterback Zach Mettenberger endured inside Houston's NRG Stadium..
Mettenberger was sacked seven times and hit another seven in the process. That was all it took for Adams-Strunk to pull the trigger and mercifully for fans bring the Whisenhunt era to an end.
Immediatelty upon taking control of the team, Mularkey showed that he was not afraid to make changes, moving away from the questionable blocking scheme the team had employed to a more protection based scheme where the tight ends- which the team has four 0f- and the fullback now play a more significant role in protecting Mariota.
Mularkey also placed an increased importance on running the football, something that seemed at times like Whisenhunt was unwilling to do.
The changes and an inspired football team lead by the return of Mariota sparked a win last week over the Saints in New Orleans and have the teams, it;s fans and national pundits talking about the Titans again.
Offense was not an issue for Mularkey in Buffalo, it was a lack of defense that led to his demise. Likewise in Jacksonville, the Jaguars defense was not good while the offense, which also struggled, did so mostly because of an overall lack of talent on the roster at that time. The proof of that can be seen in the Jaguars continued struggles to win since Mularkey was dismissed.
What makes this time different for Mularkey?
The Titans have an improved defense lead by legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Mularkey is responsible, but he can allow LeBeau and Horton to handle things on that side of the football leaving him to work with the offense during the practice week and to be the head coach on Sunday.
Mularkey could have taken over the playcalling duties on offense as Whisenhunt had done. Instead, Mularkey learned a lesson from the demise of his friend and gave those play calling duties to offensive coordinator Jason Michael.
The plan worked in week one for Mularkey, and if the team continues to respond and play well, it could lead to Mularkey earning the job full time.
There is a confort level with Mularkey and this staff, and in particular LeBeau, whom Mularkey coached with during his time in Pittsburgh.
The Titans still need to improve the roster and add more talent, but that is something that will not happen until after the season, but if Mularkey can string together a solid second half of the season, then he could find himself with a chance to have a say in adding that new talent to the Titans roster.
Time will tell, but Mularkey seems to have indeed learned from his past failures and seems ready to handle his new responsibilites, even if it just in the interim.