NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey stepped into a tough spot when he replaced Ken Whisenhunt last week.
The team was 1-6, with nine games left.
Hopeless? Hardly, according to former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker. In 2004, Tucker played under Mularkey during his first year as head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
"We started 0 and 4 that year,'' Tucker recalled, "and then went 9-2 heading into our last game. I think it says something positive about his resiliency. He was a first-time head coach, and we started off like that, but guys continued to fight, and believe. I think that says a lot."
The Bills lost the season-finale that year to the Steelers, and finished 9-7, one win short of the playoffs.
Tucker, an analyst with SiriusXM NFL Radio and Westwood One, said players respected Mularkey in Buffalo. Tucker played seven NFL seasons, including the one season under Mularkey.
"I am high on him. I think he'll do a nice job,'' Tucker said of Mularkey. "He is pretty hard-nosed. I guess I believe a lot of the things that he believes in as far as physicality and toughness and running the football.
"I think in general guys respected him. He fully believed in playing hard and playing to the whistle. I know those are clichés, but that's how he coaches. Guys that play the hardest and played chippy, and finished every play, he played them.
"He was always about the last shove,'' Tucker continued. "Right when that whistle blows, or right before the whistle blows, he wanted a shove, really just to mentally wear down the guy you're going against."
The Titans beat the Saints 34-28 in overtime in Mularkey's first game as interim coach.
Next up the Titans will face the Panthers.
Tucker worked the Titans-Falcons game for Westwood One. He said he couldn't understand some of the things the Titans did under Whisenhunt, and believes Mularkey will fix them.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the debut of Titans interim head coach Mike Mularkey at New Orleans. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
"I guess I don't understand why Andrews is running the ball real well against the Falcons and they just stopped. I don't understand it,'' Tucker said. "And when you have a young quarterback and an offensive line with some holes, the best was to protect them is to run the ball. Whiz, it just seems like he was so quick to go away from the run. He was also calling deeper drops, 7-step drops. I don't think Mularkey will do that. I think he'll put a heavy emphasis on getting the ball out of the hands of the QB quicker."
The Titans made big improvements right out of the gate against the Saints. Andrews ran for a career-high 88 yards, and quarterback Marcus Mariota wasn't sacked once.
Is Mularkey a good candidate to win the Titans job on a full-time basis? Tucker thinks he deserves a shot. In Buffalo, Mularkey was out after two seasons. During the 2005 season the Bills went just 5-11 after the team turned things over to quarterback JP Losman at the start of the season.
Mularkey coached one season with the Jaguars, in 2012. Jacksonville went 2-14 that season with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne at quarterback.
"I don't think he's ever got a fair deal,'' Tucker said of Mularkey. "He was in Buffalo, and the first year we went 9-7 and they decided to get rid of (veteran quarterback) Drew Bledsoe. I don't think that was his decision. Then he gets one year in Jacksonville, and he never really got a chance to show what he can do and he's out there.
"To be honest, he's probably had just about the worst luck of any head coach. But maybe things will work out for him this time."