With Mike Mularkey’s surprise firing this morning, we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a surprise coaching search. The Titans job immediately becomes the most attractive head coaching position available and the team should have plenty of good options available even after other teams got a two week head start.
Here are some of the top options available that they could be considering.
Josh McDaniels, OC Patriots
This is the obvious one and considering McDaniels’ connection to GM Jon Robinson, he has to be considered the clear favorite. McDaniels’ resume is well-known at this point, but I’ll highlight it quickly.
He started his career as a low level assistant in New England in 2001 right as the Patriots were becoming THE PATRIOTS. He became Tom Brady’s QB coach in 2004 and was quicky elevated to offensive coordinator in 2006. In 2007, he piloted the greatest offense in the history of the NFL during the Patriots 18-1 season.
He parlayed that success in to the Denver Broncos head coaching job in 2009. That stop went horribly. McDaniels was given control of the roster along with his coaching duties and he handled the roster horribly, alienating star players Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall before eventually trading them away from the team. He went 11-17 in a year and some change in Denver before being fired midway through his 2nd year.
He found a landing spot as offensive coordinator for the Rams in 2011, but found no success there either as his offense tanked with Sam Bradford at quarterback. The entire Rams staff was cleaned out prior after that season, leading to the hire of Jeff Fisher in St. Louis — it always comes back to Jeff Fisher at some point — and McDaniels went back to his old post as offensive coordinator in New England. He’s been there ever since.
McDaniels has five Super Bowl rings — two as offensive coordinator — and coordinated the best offense in the history of the league. He’s an incredible offensive mind by all accounts and since he won’t manage personnel here, that side of things won’t be a concern. I have zero doubts that McDaniels would be good for Mariota and this locker room is filled with veteran leaders and team first players — much different than the one he walked in to in Denver.
I would expect him to be the runaway favorite despite him being rumored as the potential choice for the Colts. This is a much better job than the Colts right now. McDaniels would need to bring a defensive coordinator in and its unclear who that might be. It won’t be Matt Patricia who is likely to become the Lions new head coach.
John DeFilippo - QB Coach, Eagles
Yes, he’s “just“ a QB coach right now, but DeFilippo is a hot coaching candidate in the league right now and my personal favorite. As a former quarterback, his coaching career has seen hin bounce around the league at several stops as a QB coach (and one year as an offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2015). He is credited with a lot of Carson Wentz’s development over the last two years and the thought is that its only a matter of time before he becomes a head coach.
Benjamin Solak at SB Nation’s Eagles site wrote an outstanding piece about him and what makes him such a good candidate a few weeks ago. Go read it now and watch the video of DeFilippo breaking down the Eagles offense for their website. He is extraordinarily sharp and energetic. While he may be a year away from being a slam dunk candidate, if you think he’s a future star, you go get him now because you won’t get another shot. He’s my favorite.
Pat Shurmur - OC, Vikings
Shurmur would qualify as a retread as he was the Browns head coach in 2011-2012, but he has otherwise been a largely successful offensive coordinator and position coach in the NFL for years. He took over as the Vikings offensive playcaller midway through the 2016 season when Norv Turner suddenly resigned and has taken a Case Keenum led offense to a top five DVOA finish — TOP FIVE!!!
What’s particularly interesting about Shurmur is that he comes from a west coast offense background, but spent two years as Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia where he incorporated a lot of the power spread concepts that we envision being successful with Marcus Mariota. To me that’s the perfect blend of offensive scheme for this team. He also has shown the ability to adapt his offense for personnel with different skill sets which is an attractive trait in an offensive coach.
Shurmur would be high on my list as well, but he is rumored to be the likely choice in Arizona to fill their vacant coaching spot. You have to think he would listen to a call from Jon Robinson though.
Steve Wilks - DC, Panthers
Wilks is another young up and coming coach, this time on the defensive side of the ball. He is a popular candidate right now, and was also considered high on the list for both the Giants and Cardinals jobs. He has only one year of coordinating experience, but I don’t believe in the idea that you must be a great playcaller to be a great head coach.
While I would prefer an offensive coach to help guide Marcus Mariota’s young career, he has been rumored to be selling a package of him with John DeFilippo as his offensive coordinator that makes him even more attractive. The problem with that, however, is that if you are hiring Wilks to get DeFilippo, you need to prepare yourself to lose him next offseason.
Mike Vrabel - DC, Texans
Vrabel is a guy who was a first year defensive coordinator in 2017 and oversaw the worst Texans defense in many years so why is he on this list? Well, for one, I don’t think coordinator jobs are necessarily the same skill set as head coaching jobs. Here is a pretty good case from MMQB about why Vrabel is a hot name this cycle.
He’s a distant 5th for me on this list but he does have the New England connection with Jon Robinson and that may make him a part of this conversation. He’s another guy that is high on the Colts list along with McDaniels. He would need a top offensive coordinator with him to get consideration.
Jim Schwartz - DC, Eagles
The former Titans defensive coordinator is kind of a dark horse here. He’s a great defensive coach and had a semi-successful run in Detroit as the head coach there. He also lives in Nashville and would surely jump at the chance to work here again.
He could probably pitch an all-Eagles package of him with DeFilippo that would be pretty attractive to me. I would prefer those roles to be flipped, with DeFilippo as the head man and Schwartz coming with him though (my knees are weak just thinking about this).