NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mike Mularkey showed up for work at Saint Thomas Sports Park on Tuesday morning and began working on the same tasks he plowed through every week at the same time.
Then came the call into the office of Titans interim president/CEO Steve Underwood. His day, his week, his 2015 season – and perhaps much more – changed as a result.
The Titans hope the on-field results of the team will change, too.
Mike Mularkey is introduced as new interim head coach of the Tennessee Titans. (Photos: Gary Glenn, AP)
Mularkey was named interim head coach of the Titans on Tuesday. He replaces Ken Whisenhunt, who was relieved of his head coaching duties the same morning. Mularkey served as assistant head coach/tight ends under Whisenhunt.
"I will say caught off-guard is probably an understatement,'' Mularkey said at a press conference a few hours later. "I don't think anyone knew what was going to take place. It was hard for me because of my relationship with Ken – we go back 25 years in the business.
"… But I also know how this business works. It's time to turn the page, and I am looking forward to this opportunity and can hopefully dig us out of the hole that we've -- including myself -- put ourselves in, and move forward from this point on."
Mularkey said he plans to make some changes on a team that's currently 1-6, but still in the mix in the AFC South.
Mularkey is in his 21st year of NFL coaching. He spent three years as a head coach, including two for the Buffalo Bills (2004-05). In his first season with the team, the Bills finished 9-7, marking their only winning season over the last decade. Mularkey also spent the 2012 season as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"As a position coach, as a coordinator, as a head coach, my philosophy has always been the same: Being a tough, physical football team," Mularkey said. "That was my role with the tight ends. That was my No.1 thing. They are going to play to the whistle, they are going to be physical. And secondly, don't beat yourself…When there's been success, the teams that I've been with, we've been successful because of those two philosophies."
TitansOnline.com looks back at the last two seasons with new interim head coach Mike Mularkey. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
Mularkey announced some changes out of the gate as he takes over for Whisenhunt, who went 3-20 after being hired as head coach in 2014.
• Offensive coordinator Jason Michael will call plays for an offense that's currently ranked 31st in the NFL. Whisenhunt held those duties until he was informed the team planned to go in a different direction on Tuesday morning.
• Arthur Smith, offensive assistant/tight ends, will lead the tight ends.
• There will be lineup changes on the offensive line, he said.
• Mularkey said he plans to do some things differently on offense, from keeping defenses off-balance with formations to personnel, and said he believes balance is important.
Something else he's high on: Keeping quarterback Marcus Mariota from getting beat up. In fact, he told Mariota that on Tuesday. Mariota has missed the past two games with a knee injury.
"I told him we are going to do a couple of things different with him to make sure he stays upright,'' Mularkey said of Mariota. "We are on the same page."
Underwood said the ownership group was on the same page with promoting Mularkey, who has enjoyed plenty of success in the NFL as an offensive coordinator during stints with the Steelers, Dolphins and Falcons
Underwood and General Manager Ruston Webster delivered the news to Whisenhunt about his dismissal after controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk considered it for weeks. The ownership group has attended all seven games this season, including Sunday's 20-6 loss in Houston.
"I don't think there was a single straw that broke the camel's back in terms of making a change,'' Underwood said of Adams Strunk. "I think she decided as a process, not an event."
Underwood said the organization plans to cast a wide net to find a permanent head coach moving forward, but made it clear Mularkey "has a great chance to have an audition.
"This is an opportunity for him to audition for the permanent role,'' Underwood said of Mularkey.
Mularkey made it clear he wants the job.
"I would like to, yes,'' he said. "I've always wanted another opportunity, and I wasn't sure I'd ever get another one after what happened in Jacksonville."
So what would Mularkey need to show in the final nine games?
"We would need to see measurable improvement,'' Underwood said. "Improvement in our business is measured in wins. You can be competitive, you can be in close games, but at the end of the day what people care about are wins and losses."
For now, though, Mularkey's focus is turning this season around for the Titans. Underwood pointed out the last time franchise made an in-season change and named an interim coach was in 1994, when Jeff Fisher was promoted. Fisher ended up being named the team's permanent coach, a role he'd keep until 2010.
Mularkey is hoping he can provide a spark to a team he feels is hungry – and just 1.5 games out of first place in the AFC South.
"These guys prepare well, and the morale is good,'' Mularkey said. "They are going to obviously be looking for answers when I meet with them tomorrow morning when they get in this team meeting room, and I am going to have them for them. The tight ends basically said to me: 'Talk to them like you talk to us and you'll get results.'