NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans and Mike Mularkey couldn’t agree on how to build off the team’s first playoff berth since 2008 and become a true NFL contender.
That job will now fall to a new coach.
The Titans split with Mularkey on Monday after he revived a team with the NFL’s worst record over two seasons and led them to their first playoff victory in 14 years. The Titans announced the move two days after a 35-14 loss to New England in the AFC divisional round.
“It became evident that we saw different paths to achieve greater success,” controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said.
Mularkey had one year left on his contract and refused to discuss his status Sunday.
But he said he had talked with Strunk and was ready to move “full speed” ahead. Mularkey also defended offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie’s play-calling with quarterback Marcus Mariota and said his coaching staff would be back as well.
Strunk said in a statement Monday she talked with Mularkey about extending his contract over the past week since a 22-21 comeback win against Kansas City in the wild-card round. Mularkey is the first coach let go after winning a playoff game since San Francisco fired Steve Mariucci after the 2002 season.
“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 oversee his first coaching search with the Titans. He was hired two days before Mularkey had the interim title removed in January 2016. The Titans are the seventh NFL team to change coaches since the start of the season.
Robinson said he and Titans president and chief executive officer Steve Underwood told Mularkey on Monday morning that they had decided to let him go.
“This boils down to doing what we think is best for the football team moving forward, taking the next step,” Robinson said at a news conference.
Robinson said interviews with candidates could be held as early as this week, though the Titans will only confirm a candidate only after an interview is completed. The general manager declined to comment when asked about Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, saying he couldn’t comment on coaches under contract.
“This is a very attractive job for a lot of candidates,” Robinson said. “I look forward to working with whoever the next head coach is. I think that they will see that myself and Amy will be unified with them in our vision for the football team.”
Strunk turned to Mularkey in November 2015 when she fired Ken Whisenhunt after 23 games . Mularkey went 2-7 down the stretch as the Titans finished 3-13 to land the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. That capped a 5-27 record over 2014 and 2015 that was the worst in the NFL.
Mularkey led the Titans to back-to-back 9-7 records — their first consecutive winning records since 2007-08. He finished with a 21-22 record after a season in which the Titans cost themselves the AFC South title with a three-game skid in December.
That left Tennessee needing to beat the Jaguars, now in the AFC championship game, in the regular-season finale to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Missing out on the AFC South title was enough for fans who hadn’t been happy since Mularkey had the interim tag taken off his title in January 2016 after a short coaching search.
In Mularkey’s first full season, the Titans led the NFL scoring touchdowns inside the red zone, and they led the AFC while ranking third in rushing offense. Mariota also threw 26 touchdowns with only nine interceptions.
But in Mularkey’s second full season, the Titans failed to take advantage of an AFC South in which Andrew Luck did not play for Indianapolis and two-time defending division champ Houston lost rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson to an injury early.
Mariota also had his worst season yet with a career-worst 15 interceptions and 13 touchdowns. The run game, the basis of Mularkey’s offense, slumped to 15th in the NFL. Mularkey frequently defended his offense, which he ran as an offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh between 2001 and 2003, which had been successful over the years.
Mularkey talked about the speculation over his job security after the Titans turned in one of the NFL’s biggest playoff comebacks by a road team in beating the Chiefs.
But their playoff run ended in a rout in New England, and now Mularkey already is being mentioned as a candidate elsewhere, including in Cleveland where Hue Jackson is considering whether to hire an offensive coordinator after also holding that position the past two seasons.
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