NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mike Mularkey has another chance to prove himself as a head coach, and his young players have another opportunity to prove their worth as well.
On his first full day as interim head coach of the Tennessee Titans, Mularkey held two team meetings at Saint Thomas Sports Park – one at 7:15 a.m., and the other at 10 a.m. He told his players he wants a tough-minded team that's prepared to play a physical brand of football on Sundays.
He also wants to give everyone a chance, something he spelled out to the team's first and second-year players at the end of Wednesday's practice.
"I've had a role to do, I've had a job to do, and I've been doing that,'' Mularkey said. "Now I have a different role, and it's a clean slate for them. Some of them need to grow up fast for us to be successful, some of them need to watch the veterans and watch how they do things if they want to be successful. Some of them need to work harder out here and they need to do better in games when they get the opportunity. Until we get that, our success rate is probably not going to be where it needs to be.
"But it's been addressed. I know there are guys that want more opportunities, and they'll get them when they earn them."
On Tuesday, Mularkey replaced Ken Whisenhunt, who was relieved of his duties after posting a 3-20 mark over his 1 ½ seasons in Tennessee. Mularkey served as assistant head coach/tight ends under Whisenhunt before he was promoted.
Mularkey, who has three years of head coaching experience with the Bills (2005-06) and Jaguars (2012), called the last 24 hours "a whirlwind" as he began the process of putting his plan in place.
On Wednesday, he turned things up a few notches in his first practice, which was described as "spirited" and "physical." The team practiced in pads, and started off with a 9-on-7 run-game drill. Earlier, he challenged the offensive linemen in a separate meeting.
"Coach Mularkey has been preaching the run since day one, he takes it to heart to run the ball with a physical attitude, and we mirror his expectations,'' guard Chance Warmack said. "We want to be physical off the ball and try and get our identity going again."
Others players said they respected Whisenhunt, but they welcomed Mularkey's approach.
"First and foremost, you don't want to see anyone you are close to get fired from their job. As a player, we could have played better and helped him out,'' cornerback Perrish Cox said. "But I like coach Mularkey. He is preaching all of it, and preaching things the players should have been doing all season."
Guard Byron Bell said the Titans responded on Wednesday.
"We started off with a run period, and that set a tone,'' Bell said. "Guys were getting after it, we had a couple of guys scrapping. We're bringing out the physicality.
"Coach Mularkey has a good game plan going in, and one of them is to finish. He told is straight up we are going to run the football. The challenge is set, we just have to go out there and do it."
The Titans face the Saints on Sunday.
Despite a 1-6 start to the season, the Titans are just 1 ½ games out of first place in the AFC, something Mularkey also reminded his players.
Mularkey is hoping he can guide the Titans to a memorable finish. He'd like to start Sunday with a win in New Orleans, which would cap off a memorable week.
"It feels good,'' Mularkey said of his opportunity. "I feel like I'm supposed to be here, but not certainly under these circumstances. I don't think anybody really likes these circumstances, but not many guys, I don't know many that have had the opportunity that I've had, so I'm going to try to do the best I can."