The Titans come into Sunday’s home game in a position unfamiliar to them in recent years: Win the last game of the regular season, and they are in the playoffs. However, the Titans enter the game coming off a three game losing streak and gift wrapped the division title to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Just a few weeks ago, when the Titans were coming off two good division wins against the Colts and Texans, the Titans looked solid and primed for a 10-11-win season. Fast forward to now and the Titans look lucky to still have a chance at the playoffs with how poorly they have played down the stretch and how bad the the rest of the AFC has been. Despite being in position to make the playoffs, the Titans aren’t likely to do much if they make it. I want to be wrong about this, but even in the event they make the playoffs and manage to upset the Jaguars or Chiefs in the wild card round, there isn’t much realistic chance the Titans go into New England or Pittsburgh in the Divisional Round and beat the red hot Patriots or Steelers.
For many years, Titans fans questioned the ultra-conservative choices of long time head coach Jeff Fisher. His outdated philosophy offensively has been felt in waves in the NFL and has been suggested as a major limitation for the potential of offensive players. Quarterbacks Nick Foles, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and 2016 number one overall draft pick Jared Goff have all played under Jeff Fisher while he was head coach of the Rams. After moving on to a more modern NFL offense with a different head coach, all of those players have started to play up to their potential. The Los Angeles Rams were a terrible football team in 2016, and Jared Goff and Todd Gurley were written off as busts. A year later under modern offensive guru Sean McVay, the Rams have taken off and gone from the worst scoring offense in the NFL to the best in just one season. Goff has blossomed into a franchise quarterback and Gurley is an MVP candidate for the NFC West Champions. The Titans choose to part ways with Jeff Fisher after the 2010 season, but three head coaches and seven seasons later, and it somehow feels as if the Titans are still stuck in a Jeff Fisher type of offense system. While they aren’t identical, the play calling is very similar, with a very run first, slow approach. This outdated system has killed the Titans this season, and it often times feels like the coaches don’t know what to do with the talent they have.
While many have pointed the finger at Quarterback Marcus Mariota for the offensive struggles this season, I believe the blame should fall on the shoulders of the coaching staff. While some point to Terry Robiskie as the lone issue, I believe the problems start on top with head coach Mike Mularkey. His brief time as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars ended for the same reasons he is struggling in Tennessee: his offensive philosophies are outdated, and his playbook doesn’t work against the defenses of the modern NFL. When Mularkey became the interim head coach for the Titans in 2015, he changed the attitude of this team. Two years later and it’s obvious that these players and this fan base has gone from one that accepts defeat to one that can’t stand to lose, and expects to battle it out every game. While Mularkey can undoubtedly be credited with righting the ship in Tennessee, in my biased opinion, I believe that no matter what happens Sunday and beyond this season that is it time to move on from him and find a new head coach. Mariota has shown flashes of his potential this year with some impressive moments and game winning drives, and his numbers last season prove when he is in the zone he can avoid throwing so many interceptions. With one more year on his rookie deal, it is in the hands of GM Jon Robinson and owner Amy Adams Strunk to find a head coach and provide players around Mariota in what will be a make or break season for the Titans and their polarizing quarterback.
With that being said, here is a look at a few of the top (perhaps overzealous) prospective coaching candidates for the Titans looking towards the offseason:
I don’t think it’s likely Gruden would leave his cushy job at ESPN to coach the Titans, but with his links to the state of Tennessee, I thought I’d throw him into the list. While he has been linked to some teams including both NFL teams he has formerly coached for, the Buccaneers and Raiders, I doubt he will leave his Monday Night Football gig he seems to love. I could be wrong, Gruden has shown a lot of praise for Mariota in the past.
The offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers is young, hungry, and has NFL head coaching experience. He has helped the Steelers offense flourish in recent years and helped the development of stud players like wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell. Another reason to consider Haley is his relationship with Dick LeBeau. It may be unlikely LeBeau stays for another coaching change in Tennessee, but bringing in a familiar face from his Pittsburgh days could certainly help the chances of retaining the hall of fame defensive coordinator.
After a brief stint as the head coach of the Broncos, McDaniels returned to New England and has helped the Patriots win two more Superbowls as he offensive coordinator. His offenses have been giving the NFL nightmeres for years, and as players come and go around Tom Brady, the engine keeps on ticking. Getting McDaniels to Tennessee would be a dream hire, and would hopefully set the Titans up with a coach that can hit on that untapped potential of some of the young weapons the Titans have.
While it would be ideal to keep the current defensive coaching staff in place, it may not be possible after a new coaching hire. That being said, I would like to see the Titans look for an offensive minded head coach. With weapons like tight end Delanie Walker, and wide receivers such as Rishard Matthews and Corey Davis, there is a lot of potential for Mariota and the passing offense to flourish, its just about finding the right coach to make it all work. It will be difficult for any teams to replicate what the Los Angeles Rams did in hiring Sean McVay and going from one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of the best, but a lot of teams, with any luck the Titans among them, will be trying to do just that. We just have to believe in Jon Robinson having another all-star off season, and everything else will hopefully fall into place.