NASHVILLE, Tenn. —When Mike Mularkey stepped in as interim coach of the Titans back in November, he wanted to prove himself worthy of being the team's permanent coach moving forward.
Mularkey's work during the final two months of the 2015 season – and his interview on Friday – convinced the team's ownership group he's the right man for the job.
The Titans on Saturday hired Mularkey as the team's permanent head coach. He was selected after three other candidates were interviewed for the position late in the week.
"The vision Mike presented for our football team during this search as well as the character, integrity, and leadership skills he displayed during the last two months of the season makes him the right coach for the Tennessee Titans," said Titans Controlling Owner and Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors Amy Adams Strunk. "Mike is a quality coach and an outstanding person who will help us build this team the right way. He has experience as a head coach and a track record for developing young quarterbacks and dynamic offenses, and he also brings continuity for our franchise quarterback. We understand this may take time as we rebuild the roster and bring in new coaches for Mike's staff, but we believe he has the experience and expertise to build a consistent winner."
Mularkey, who replaced Ken Whisenhunt in November, said he's ready for the challenge. He's the 18th head coach in franchise history.
"I am honored to be named the head coach of the Titans and I want to thank Amy, Kenneth, Steve and Jon for this opportunity," said Mularkey. "I am going to give all that I have to make this team successful and make our city and fans proud. The last two months of the season were extremely valuable to understand our personnel and instill some of our values and standard of play, so we won't be starting from scratch. With that as a basis, we will now be installing some new systems and bringing in new coaches and players to build on what we have started. There is plenty of work to be done until we reach our goal, but myself, the coaches and the players are going to work tirelessly to get us there."
Mularkey has 21 years of coaching position in the NFL. He replaced Whisenhunt seven games into 2015 season, and coached the team the final nine games. Mularkey initially joined the Titans in 2014 as tight ends coach and was elevated to assistant head coach prior to the start of the 2015 season.
Mularkey, who served two seasons as head coach of the Bills (2004-05) and one season as head coach of the Jaguars (2012), also has eight years of experience as an offensive coordinator, with stops in Atlanta, Miami, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. In five of the eight seasons he was a coordinator, Mularkey's team went to the playoffs.
Following a season when the Titans showed improvement in several areas under Mularkey's guidance, players expressed support for the coach, and made it clear they'd like to see him return.
Despite being familiar with Mularkey, they know change is coming.
"Absolutely guys do (want him back),'' Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "Hopefully Mularkey can come back and we add some pieces here and there and have a full season to implement his coaching style, his coaching philosophy and his scheme.
TitansOnline.com looks back at Titans head coach Mike Mularkey's 2015 season. (AP Photos)
"We know what he is capable of doing, you have seen his days in Atlanta running the offense. I hope he gets that opportunity. He definitely deserves it, a full season, to implement his coaching style."
Veteran receiver Harry Douglas spent four seasons with Mularkey in Atlanta before joining the Titans in March.
In four seasons (2008-11) with the Falcons, the team advanced to the postseason three times. Mularkey's offense produced a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season in three of his four years with the team. Quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Roddy White, running back Michael Turner and tight end Tony Gonzalez were among his star pupils.
In 2010, Sporting News named Mularkey "Coordinator of the Year."
"He is a good get, and I think he deserves it,'' Douglas said of Mularkey. "When things were spiraling down this season, he made the spiraling down stop. He gave us that burst, and energy we needed as a team. I was with him in Atlanta and he has done some great things in this league and I feel like he can lead us where we need to be.
"His attention to detail, and the demanding of excellence out of everyone. He loves football, it means a lot to him. Winning means a lot to him. And he has won."
The Titans were 1-6 when the team replaced Whisenhunt with Mularkey after a November 1 loss at Houston. In the final nine games of the season the Titans went 2-7, but showed improvement in a number of areas.
Quarterback protection improved significantly. The Titans allowed 28 sacks in the seven games Whisenhunt coached this season. Under Mularkey, the Titans allowed 26 sacks in nine games, but overall quarterbacks were taking fewer hits and the average number of sacks under Mularkey was less than three per game.
The Titans also cut back on penalties under Mularkey. The Titans committed the second fewest penalties in the NFL (93) in 2015, and finished tied for second in the league in fewest penalty yards (779). These numbers improved significantly under Mularkey.
"I think he is an exceptional coach,'' guard Chance Warmack said of Mularkey. "He was put in a tough situation, and he made the most of it. I am pretty sure if he had a full season to do what he wanted to do, he would be real successful. He brings good energy to the team."
Titans tackle Taylor Lewan agreed.
"I think Mike was a phenomenal head coach,'' Lewan said. "He definitely made us all want to play really hard for him. He is a great guy and a great coach. I have so much respect for Mike."
In addition to Mularkey, the Titans also interviewed Jaguars assistant head coach-offense/offensive line coach Doug Marrone, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and Ray Horton, the team's defensive coordinator the past two seasons, for the job. Horton interviewed on Saturday morning.
Among the group the candidates met with included Amy Adams Strunk and Kenneth Adams IV from the ownership group, President Steve Underwood, and Jon Robinson, who was hired as the team's general manager on Thursday.
At season's end, Underwood said Mularkey would be given consideration for the job. At the time, he praised him for his work with quarterback Marcus Mariota, the team's second overall pick in the 2015 draft.
The last time the Titans hired an interim coach on a permanent basis came after the 1994 season, when Jeff Fisher was promoted. Fisher guided the franchise to six playoff appearances, two AFC Championships and a Super Bowl while in that role until 2010.
"I think that you have to look again at what he had to work with," Underwood said of Mularkey. "Our starting quarterback was injured a good bit of that time, missed a number of games due to injury. Mike apparently did make adjustments that made it easier to protect Marcus (Mariota), we did have some success here and there. I think all of those things though have to be weighed against the fact that he was working in someone else's schemes."
Mularkey is expected to make significant changes to his coaching staff for 2015. Already, he has open spots at receivers coach, defensive line coach, and on special teams.
Mularkey made several lineup changes during the second half of the season, starting on the offensive line. With an entire offseason to work, he'll also make changes to the offensive system, and implement his own scheme.
On Monday, Mularkey and Robinson will be introduced at a press conference at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
At season's end, Mularkey made it clear he felt he's the man for the job. A full offseason would allow him to make changes.
"There is a good nucleus here, there are a lot of young players, a lot of good,'' Mularkey said. "I think we are very close here and I would like the opportunity to talk about it."
Now, he'll get that chance.
"Coach Mularkey, I feel like if he had an opportunity with a whole year under his belt, and he is the guy, I feel like he could implement things and get us going in the right direction,'' Titans offensive lineman Byron Bell said. "He is a good football coach, and he knows what it takes to win. I respect coach Mularkey, the way he comes to work every day. He is 100 percent honest with you, and I respect that about him."
Added defensive lineman Jurrell Casey: "He was put in a tough position from the get-go, and I think he handled the situation pretty well. We weren't able to get the wins we needed for him, but him keeping his composure and being able to keep the team fighting has been a great testament to him.
"The players respect him and respect the way he coaches."