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Titans Could Soon Be Reaching A Crossroads

Some big decisions could be on the horizon.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports’s me. The same guy who was preaching patience yesterday. Now, before you think that I have completely flipped after one game, I have not. I’ve made that mistake before and I’m not doing it again. There is still a legitimate possibility that the team found something with the no huddle, and could use it to find a win to get into the playoffs. If the team can avoid blowing everything up while making some key adjustments, it would be the best case scenario. That being said, if the Titans’ season continues to fall apart down the stretch, it is worth taking a look at which decisions they have to make.

First, let’s take a look at Mike Mularkey. When he was first hired, he signed a 3 year contract. This means that his contract expires after next season. Considering the previously mentioned “adjustments” that need to be made for this team to take the next step, it seems as if the team needs to decide whether they want to extend Mularkey, or cut bait. It is very rare that we see coaches actually go through with a lame duck year, because it makes it very difficult to bring in effective assistants.

Now, let’s look at Terry Robiskie. After yesterday’s game, it seems as if this issue has officially come to the forefront. Key players like Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker have expressed frustration about the offense, and Matthews has even mentioned that he would rather have Marcus Mariota calling the plays. Players have also seemed confused all season long, and Marcus Mariota has thrown the most interceptions in his career, thanks to a number of miscommunications. With each step that this team takes towards missing the playoffs, it becomes more likely that Robiskie will be the odd man out. That being said, who could the Titans possibly bring in? If the Titans allow Mike Mularkey to play out the third year of his contract, it will be tough for him to do anything but promote from within, or take playcalling duties over himself. Jason Michael has already called plays for this team before, and things did not go well. However, if the Titans fire Robiskie, these could be the only two viable options. For example, consider John DeFillipo, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach. He has been a lifelong Eagles fan, has been a successful offensive coordinator, and will likely have to decide whether he wants to stick with coaching Carson Wentz, take a long-term offensive coordinator job elsewhere, or even be a head coach somewhere. Considering all of those options, it seems very unlikely that he would take a job with a franchise that could be moving on to a new head coach after next season. When it comes to all of the viable outside options at offensive coordinator, this scenario will hold.

Another coach who I believe could very well be fired is special teams coordinator, Steve Hoffman. Jon Robinson has to be incredibly disappointed with how much the special teams has under-performed, considering the large investment this off-season. Rather than chasing AJ Bouye, Dont’a Hightower, etc., Robinson decided to fix the special teams through the signing of Darren Bates, Brynden Trawick, Eric Weems, and by drafting Adoree Jackson. While some fans may not agree with this approach, it seemed reasonable because special teams gaffes were a significant reason why this team missed the playoffs and lost a few different games in 2016. However, the unit is no better this year. Every week, they are penalized on returns, and Adoree Jackson has only had 1 or 2 good returns all season that haven’t been called back. Mike Mularkey has also expressed disappointment in the special teams several times after games this season. Before this game, I have firmly believed that the coordinator most likely to be fired is Steve Hoffman. After making such a big investment in the off-season, it is hard to believe that Jon Robinson will be complacent as he sees no returns. So now, we are up to two coordinators being fired in this scenario.

Finally, let’s take a look at the defense. No, Dick Lebeau should not be fired. The defense has played well, especially recently (other than yesterday). I believe that they will only improve as the team brings in more talent on that side of the ball. However, Lebeau just turned 80 years old. He can only coach for so much longer. We have absolutely no idea when he will retire. If Lebeau retires, you are now looking at all three coordinators being replaced.

Even if Lebeau stays on but the other two coaches are fired, the team still must make a decision about the direction that they want to go. Given a lame duck contract, we cannot expect any effective, game-changing coordinators to be hired. They could promote from within, but it would be tough to sell that as a significant change. Just like the issue with Terry Robiskie, I believe that this issue will come to the forefront if the team loses the next two games. In order to get this team to where they need to be, Jon Robinson, Amy Adams Strunk, Kenneth Adams, and our favorite Titans admin Steve Underwood will have a humongous decision on their plates—extend Mularkey and allow him to hire coordinators, fire him and start fresh, or let him play out his lame duck season, essentially kicking the can down the road? I do not envy these decision makers. While fans will likely be quick to say “Fire him and start fresh! To the pit of misery, dilly dilly!” we have to consider the long-term ramifications of each potential decision. If the team is considering extending Mularkey but firing coordinators, they need to have a sit-down with him, and ask him to explain his plan. Tell us which coordinators you believe that we can bring in, and how it will help this team. If he can provide the team with an effective plan, I believe that they will give him a chance and a short-term contract extension. However, let’s say that this plan doesn’t work and the Titans regress (Have you seen that schedule for 2018?!?!?!). Eventually, Mularkey would be fired and Marcus Mariota would be on his 4th different offensive coordinator, which is essentially a blueprint for ruining a young quarterback. However, if they fire everyone, they are taking a step back from where they are now, still with Mariota on his 3rd offensive coordinator. Is it really time to completely start over? They were at the absolute bottom for so long, and are finally able to be .500 or better for the second straight season. If everyone is fired, all of the players will need to learn new systems, including a potential change from a 3-4 to 4-3. We will not see a magical overnight change from a middling team to a super bowl contender overnight. Even when the Falcons hired Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan, it took a 6-10 season before they were able to progress. The team has to decide if this is the direction that they want to go. Finally, if the team decides to let Mularkey play out his lame duck season and likely hire from within, this team will probably stay on the same level that they are on now with a more difficult schedule and significantly tougher division. Essentially, they would be taking a “wait and see” approach next season, and could simply not extend the staff’s contracts past 2018.

Personally, I am not very sure about what I would like to see. It seems like just yesterday I was loudly pounding the table for Mike Munchak to be fired. Again, this was a middling team. In my defense, they were definitely worse than this team is now. However, the point is that this feels all too similar. This is a middling team, the franchise is reaching a crossroads in terms of changes to the coaching staff and lame duck years, and a lot of fans want the coach to be replaced. However, shortly after Munchak was fired, I found myself wishing the team was only as “bad” as they were during that era. It is tough to see your favorite team play like this and lose games after nearly being able to taste the playoffs. However, we learned shortly after Munchak was fired that the grass is not always greener on the other side. I used to be the type of fan to call for someone to be fired the second something goes wrong. However, after seeing how bad things can get with just 1 or 2 incorrect decisions made from above, I am weary. That is just my personal 2 cents. That being said, this team has some huge decisions to make in about two weeks, and they ought to be meeting as we speak to thoroughly examine each possibility. No matter what they do, it will have long-term effects. This could be one of the biggest decisions of Jon Robinson’s career. Let’s hope that he makes the right one.