After the Titans hired Mike Mularkey, I truly believed that things were as bleak and hopeless as they have ever been. There were nasty posts, tweets and more about him, and the franchise as a whole. After the first month of the season, I started to bang the drum, calling for his firing. Now, standing here, after the first winning season in 5 years, and the future looking brighter than ever, I need to properly apologize to Mike Mularkey--something that is very much overdue.
As Amy Adams Strunk and Jon Robinson recognized, Mike Mularkey was an absolutely perfect for what this franchise needed. Whether it was his candor, his philosophies and ideas, his relationship with Jon Robinson, or just the fact that he is a good man, Mike Mularkey has shown that he is the right man for the job. As a disgruntled fan, it is very easy to get swept into the mindset of calling for jobs when things are not going correctly. After many years of poor football and pain, all that I knew was to call for coaches to be fired and players to be released. When things came to a head in January of 2016, Mike Mularkey received the brunt of my disgruntled fan aggression.
Now, Mike Mularkey surely has no idea who I am, and could not care less about what I say about him, good or bad. However, I am not sure that a newly hired Head Coach has ever received such a cold, rough welcoming from a fanbase and the press, both locally and nationally. As I displayed early on during the season, any sign of a shortcoming would mean significant backlash for Mularkey, and his staff as a whole. The fact that in the face of what could only be described as a, "you-know-what-storm", Mularkey was able to take a team that had only won 5 games in two years, and turn them into a team that was a play or two away from winning the division, is nothing short of remarkable.
This was only one of the things that made Mularkey’s performance this year incredible. From a cultural standpoint, he has completely turned the team around. After he was hired, he made changes to the facility to initiate a fresh start, and players began to buy in. However, the true turning point was the blowout of the Green Bay Packers in November. Mike Mularkey had the team absolutely ready to go against an upper echelon franchise, and the fact that the team even showed up was a breath of fresh air. However, after crushing Green Bay, the team started to believe that they could compete with, and beat anyone in the league. At that moment, the fortunes of the team completely changed, and the locker room dynamics did as well. The mindset that Mularkey set in place evolved as the year progressed, and the comeback against Kansas City showed how far the team had truly come. Thanks to Mike Mularkey, the Titans are now a team that fights, scraps and claws, and competes with any team. This was put on full display in Kansas City. This is a team that has barely lost any games the past two seasons. Being able to go into Arrowhead Stadium in December, come back from a double digit deficit, and win in regulation is something very few teams in this league can do. However, thanks to Mularkey, the Titans showed exactly what they were all about that day. It was a microcosm of the amazing job that Mike Mularkey had done turning this franchise around.
Yesterday, Jason McCourty was asked about what separates Mike Mularkey from other coaches that have come through the facility. Essentially, his response was that he is incredibly candid, and whatever he says will happen, happens. While this may sound simple, it is clear that Mularkey’s candor was a significant factor in the turnaround of this franchise. Players that walk through the building no longer have a sense of complacency. The likes of Justin Hunter, Dorial Green-Beckham, and Zach Brown are no longer around, because they do not identify with the mindset that Mike Mularkey has established in the locker room. With the players who are still in the building, Mularkey has done a fantastic job of finding their zone of proximal development, in a sense. He knows exactly how to reach them, and turn them into the players that he and Jon Robinson know that they can be. This was made completely evident through Taylor Lewan’s season. Before 2016, Lewan was a player who was full of potential, but very rough around the edges. His personal fouls and running mouth seemed to hinder the team more than anything. Mularkey stripped Lewan of his captain status, which was a risky move. This could have been a significant blow to a guy who seemingly had a very big ego. However, rather than rebelling against Mularkey and the staff, Lewan developed into a Pro Bowl tackle, who avoids those absolutely crushing penalties that he once came with. This did not magically happen overnight. Mularkey brought Lewan in, embraced him in the midst of talks of a position change, and had many talks with him about maturity, passion, and love of the game. Throughout the season, he was held accountable for his actions. This was put on display on a Thursday night in October after Lewan had received a personal foul against Jacksonville. He was taken out of the game by Mularkey, and was told, "That’s that stupid ****!". By being held accountable by Mularkey, Lewan has developed into a mature player, and significant asset for the Titans. The same concept was put on display after the win in Kansas City when Kendall Wright, the player who was deactivated by Mularkey the week before, was the first person to hug Mularkey as Ryan Succop’s kick went through the uprights. Mularkey has shown that to a man, he will hold players accountable, and to a high standard. As a result, the team has rallied around him, and taken on his mindset.
I could rant all day long about how Mike Mularkey has proven me completely wrong and shut me up, but the most important thing here is that the Titans are in a significantly better place than they were this time last year thanks to him. He has completely turned this franchise around. As a passionate fan, I feel forever indebted to him for this, and I could not be more sorry for the way that I responded to his hiring. This was one of my favorite seasons that I have ever been a part of as a fan, and much like Mularkey’s players, I feel completely rejuvenated and extremely excited for the future, and it is largely in part to this man. I truly apologize to Coach Mularkey, and I could not be more excited to see how he continues to mold this team in his image. Here’s to an amazing season.