Mike Mularkey Introduction Press Conference Transcript




(opening statement)

Good morning. Welcome, all of you, to Saint Thomas Sports Park. Earlier today, we relieved our head coach of his duties and thanked Ken (Whisenhunt) for his contributions to us. We wish him well in his future endeavors. Just before that, we had spoken to Mike Mularkey about his willingness to be our interim head coach. I think Mike was taken off guard a little bit this morning. He's had some time to sort of settle in with it, and we're very grateful for his willingness to assume that role. All of you know Mike. He's been a former head coach, he's been an offensive coordinator in our league, and we're very grateful that he's willing to help us.



(opening statement)

Thank you. I will say, caught off guard was probably an understatement. I don't think anybody really knew this morning what was going to take place. It was hard for me because of my relationship with Ken (Whisenhunt). We go back 25 years in this business. That's the difficult part of it, is that you've got a close friend who hired you to work for him, and I appreciate him doing that. But also, I've been in the business, this is my 30th year, as a player and coach, and I also know how the business works. It's time to turn the page, and I'm looking forward to this opportunity with these guys to hopefully dig us out of the hole that we, including myself, put us in, and move forward from this point on.

(on what is the first thing that has to change to get the team out of this hole)

Well I think as you've noticed, we keep saying we're close, we have been close in a lot of these games. It's a matter of making some plays here and there, and I think offensively we know that we have not really been complementing our defense as well as we did earlier in the year and we need to get back to doing that. We'll do some things differently offensively, scheme-wise, more things that I'm more familiar with from some of the offenses that I've had. We're not going to change the whole offense but we're going to do some things philosophically different to help us.

(on if they will focus on the run game more now)

Well I think balance is important, I always have. If you ever look at my years as a coordinator calling plays, I always really watch myself as far as balance, but also trying to keep teams off balance with formations and personnel. Again, not that we weren't already doing that, we may just do a little more of that and probably do some things differently in the passing game than we've been doing.

(on if he will call plays now)

No, (offensive coordinator) Jason Michael will call the plays here. Jason understands and runs the offense, starting as soon as we get over the previous opponent, he's already on the next one. He knows this offense inside and out. There's a big trust factor there, and I trust him that he'll put us in the right situation. We'll talk a lot, but it's hard to concentrate when you get too many people on the phones. I'm going to let him have it and if I think there's something that needs to be addressed, I'll address it in between series.

(on if the changes in the passing game will be protection-related)

Some protection, some scheme-wise as well. Things that, again, without showing our hand, things that going back to my days in Pittsburgh as a coordinator, with a quarterback that's as talented as Marcus (Mariota) is, his ability to do some things like I had with Kordell (Stewart) back in Pittsburgh, and then his ability to do like Matt (Ryan) I had in Atlanta, he's got a lot of the similarities to both of those guys which is being dangerous to defenses. You'll see some things different, whether you recognize it or not, it will be.

(on the identity of the team going forward)

That's easy for me to talk about. As a position coach, as a coordinator, as a head coach, my philosophy has always been the same. It's being a tough, physical football team now. That was my role with the tight ends. That was their number one thing, they're going to play to the whistle, and they're going to be physical. Secondly, it's don't beat yourself. That's the biggest thing in this business. Turning the ball over, penalties, mental errors, things like that. That's one thing I've been very proud of over my history, we have done a good job of not doing that. When there's been success, the teams that I've been with, we've been successful because of those two philosophies. It won't be hard for me to get in front of these guys because I believe it, and I believe it wins games.

(on how excited he is to have another head coaching opportunity)

I'm better now than I was a couple hours ago. I told Steve (Underwood) this morning, I needed to just take a step back and catch my breath here a little bit. I was getting ready to do the run game this morning, literally in the next five minutes, so there's really no preparation of what you're going to do, you're the head coach a couple hours later. So there are some things I need to get prepared and get ready for. Obviously, I'm going to have these guys first thing in the morning and they're going to look for answers and I'm going to hopefully have them for them.

(on if he spoke with Amy Adams Strunk and what she said)

I did talk to Amy this morning, yes. She felt like there needed to be a change and that was really the point of it. She obviously wants to get wins out of this team and felt in the best interest of the team, this was the best move for them. I'll leave it at that.


(on if Amy Adams Strunk is in Texas)

She is in Texas, yes.

(on what he sees in Mike Mularkey)

We have two former NFL head coaches on our staff. We believe that Mike (Mularkey) will be the best fit for us. Our defense is playing very well, it's not something I think we wanted to distract Coach (Dick) LeBeau about. Mike has a strong offensive background, he's been doing it all the time that he's been in the NFL, so it made that decision relatively easy.

(on if there was one last factor that contributed to the decision to fire Ken Whisenhunt)

I don't think there was a single straw, as you put it, that broke the camel's back in terms of making a change. Amy (Adams Strunk) has been considering it now for several weeks. She and I have had any number of conversations about it. She was in almost daily communication with Ken (Whisenhunt) and with Ruston (Webster). I think she's been to every single game we've played at home and on the road. She follows the team for hours every day in terms of what they're doing. I don't think there's anything said or written about the club that Amy is not dialed into. Having been around the business for most of her life, I think it was something that she decided as a process, not an event.

(on what his advice was when ownership was considering the move)

Well, Amy (Adams Strunk) didn't exactly ask me the question, 'what did I think ought to happen?' Amy asked me other questions about how it was affecting our team, the fact that we had only won three of the last 23 games, what effect that was having on our business side. She doesn't really ask me a lot of football questions, that's not really my area of expertise. We have a lot of other people that are good at football. But it was certainly something that needed to be considered. When you're not winning, and you can't win, that's when change happens in the NFL. Our business is really characterized by that kind of change. If you're not successful, things change.

(on how the team's losing record has impacted the business side of the organization)

Well, it's like any other long term lack of success on the field. You have some attrition in your season ticket sales, it affects your suite business, and it affects how interested your fans are in the game. Really, I have to say this, our fans have been very loyal. Our PSL (personal seat license) holders have really hung in there. We're still having great crowds this year. There has been some effect and we know it, we hear from them, our ticket service personnel hear from them. All of those things have an effect on your television ratings, on people that are listening on the radio, and you have to pay attention to that. That is a part of our business.

(on who will hire the team's next head coach)

Amy (Adams Strunk) will hire our next head coach.

(on how hopeful he is that this change will help)

Well, a number of things. The last interim coach we had went on to do pretty great things for our franchise. Jeff (Fisher) was here, he only had the one win the rest of that season, but his future with our club, you got a chance to know Jeff, to see Jeff work. We'll get the same thing with Mike (Mularkey). We'll get an opportunity to see him perform as a head coach. But we'll cast a wide loop looking for candidates for a successor head coach. We've made that clear to Mike, he understands that, but it's a great chance for him to have an audition.

(on if Mike Mularkey has no chance at keeping the job)

No, just the opposite. What I said was, this is an opportunity for him to audition for the permanent role.


(on if he would like to keep the job permanently)

I would like to, yes. I've always wanted another opportunity. I wasn't sure I'd ever get another one after what happened in Jacksonville, but I'd absolutely like to have that opportunity.


(on if the team needs to hire a permanent president before hiring a permanent head coach)

I think the greater responsibility that our controlling owner has is to find a new head coach. If she wants me to help in that process after the season is over, I'd be glad to do that. Turn our attention to that first, and then turn our attention to finding a permanent president/CEO. But I think having a head coach on the ground as early as we can in that process is more important than finding a permanent president/CEO.

(on what role Ruston Webster will play in the search for a new head coach)

Well I think our general manager will have a role in looking for it. The question I was asked earlier is, who will make the final decision, and that person will be Amy (Adams Strunk). But I think Ruston (Webster) will be involved in the search. I'll be involved in the search. It's something that he and I have both done before. In terms of them working together, the phrase that I have always used is genuine collaboration. If you have that going on between your head coach and general manager, whatever problems you have between personnel and coaching will disappear.

(on where Ruston Webster is)

He's in this room.

(on why Ruston Webster is not at the podium)

I didn't ask him to be at the podium.

(on why Ruston Webster was not asked to speak)

The decision was made by our controlling owner. We were informed of her decision after offering her our input.

(on if Ruston Webster has Amy Adams Strunk's full support)

Yes, he is our general manager, you bet.

(on what he would need to see from Mike Mularkey by the end of the season if he was to keep the job)

We would need to see measurable improvement. The improvement in our business is measured in wins. You can be competitive, you can play in close games, but at the end of the day, what people care about is wins and losses.


(on if the offensive line protection issue affecting Marcus Mariota's health is a concern)

Well yeah, we have to make changes there. On the offensive line, there will be some roster changes there. I won't go into depth with that, but everybody really is involved with that. Everybody really, receivers, route running, the speeds, the depths, the precision, the backs, everything, tight ends included. Everybody can help with our protections, including the coaching staff first putting the schemes together to ensure that happens.

(on how much he can change the team in short amount of time)

Well a lot of people have asked, what are you going to change? I have to sit back and really think about that for a second. I have ideas offensively, schematically. So I need some time to just kind of take this all in and see where I need to focus all my attention. But obviously, I have some thoughts offensively, and I've already addressed it with the offensive staff.

(on if the team needs more skilled players)

That's up to us. I've always been under the impression that you play around your players' talents and you fit the scheme around them. You don't try to fit them to your scheme. I'm not saying that's what we did, but I think we as coaches can do a better job, and we have to do a better job of putting our guys in position to have an advantage on plays. That's all of them. That's the offensive line, that's the receivers, everybody.

(on if the team will make moves before the NFL trade deadline today)

I have not talked about that, no.

(on the reaction of the other assistant coaches to the firing of Ken Whisenhunt)

There's a close relationship with your head coach, so it was little bit of a shock to everybody. Really nobody saw it coming, and I think they just wondered what direction we were going to head. So that was the first thing I did, I got them all together and kind of gave them my impression of where I thought we could go and that I needed their help. I'm included, we dug a hole that we have to climb out of. There's nobody else that's going to come in here. The roster's not changing, the coaching staff is not changing. We're the ones that are going to get out of it, and we're going to find a way to do that. Whatever changes those are, I can't tell you exactly what they are because I haven't had, really the time, to sit back and take a look at this or that, the schedule, the meeting times, travel, all that. Those are things I need to look at and see if there is anything we can do better.

(on if there will be collaborative game planning among the assistant coaches)

Yes, they're planning right now just as we would be on every Tuesday. I'll probably, I've been mainly in the run game portion of it. I'll probably be more involved with first, second and third down passing game as well. So I'll be more involved in those areas.

(on how critical consistency is within a coaching staff in the development of a young quarterback)

I think that's important. I definitely think that's important. That's a tough position already, let alone being a rookie and you've got to find a way that he's confident in what he's doing. The consistency with the staff, I think we could all coach better. I think that's a point that I think whenever you're not winning, you're always looking at yourself first, not at the players. We'll see if we can get more out of each coach.


(on how he delivered the news to Ken Whisenhunt and how he took it)

Ruston (Webster) and I sat down with him together. He was very professional about it. A gentleman, he understood. He thanked both of us for the time that he spent here. We thanked Ken (Whisenhunt) for the contributions that he made to us and wished him well. It was a relatively short conversation. We told him that we'd cooperate with him any way we could about his office, his automobile, and all those things that when you leave work, you lose that connection. We're glad to try and cooperate with him in any way we can.


(on how his past experiences will help him jump into this new role)

Well, getting back in this chair in front of you guys, it helps having the prior experience. It would be a little overwhelming if I had not done this before. It's going to help. As time has gone on since what happened this morning, I'm getting much more comfortable, I'm getting a better vision. Obviously, I need more time than a couple hours, but I do, I feel very good about this opportunity and again, just turning the page from what took place. I'm ready to move forward with these guys and the staff is as well.

(on major takeaways from his past head coaching positions in Buffalo and Jacksonville)

Well I'm disappointed I couldn't, first of all, finish what I started in Jacksonville. But I can say this as I sit here, I was very proud, and still am, of the job that I did in Jacksonville. In that one year, I watched a team that every Sunday, went out there and played with intensity, played with great effort, played with their hearts until even our last game, here in this stadium, when an official came up to me and said, 'I have to tell you, I've never seen a team in the situation you're in play with this kind of intensity and emotion.' And I said, 'They played this way the whole year.' I was very proud of what we did. I don't want to say the number one reason why, but we could have used more help roster-wise. But with what we had, we had a chance to win every week and the players believed that.

(on if he is concerned with Drew Brees having thrown seven touchdowns last week as the Titans head to New Orleans Sunday)

If our defense continues to play as it has, I think we'll see if that's a possibility. I don't think so. Our defense has played well. Our defense has played with the mentality that I talked about, tough physical, don't beat yourself kind of mentality. That's what we have to feed off of. They're already doing it, it's not going to be a hard sell job for them.

(on the ability of a new coach to bring an immediate lift to a team as Miami interim head coach Dan Campbell did for the Dolphins)

I think a lot of it, at least in the teams that I've been around, that team had been really in the media, beat down, a lot of negative things about that team, a lot of bad things being said. I think what they did, what Dan (Campbell) went in there and did, they basically took that team frustration out on us. The teams that I've been on, the teams that have been successful, when they're frustrated, they don't stay frustrated. They go to the next opponent and they take the frustration out on that next opponent. I think that's a pretty good example of it.

(on morale in the locker room)

Our morale is very good. Our week of practice last week, you can tell, I've been on some rosters that the morale is not there. Our roster is not (like that). That's a credit to Ruston (Webster), Steve (Underwood) and Whiz (Ken Whisenhunt). These guys really, really prepare well and the morale is good. It's very good. They're going to obviously be looking for answers tomorrow morning when they get in this team meeting room, and I'm going to have them for them. But I think it's good. The tight ends basically said to me, talk to them like you talk to us and you'll get results. I have no problem because that's what I believe in.

(on who will coach the tight ends now)

(Assistant tight ends coach) Arthur Smith. Arthur has been with me since the beginning and Arthur does a lot of the coaching. I let him take his moments and I'm very confident in Arthur.

(on how important is it for a head coach to establish clarity in the direction the team is heading)

Critical right now, because I think they're all wondering, where do we go from here? We're a game and a half out of first place in this division and we've got nine games to go. I think they need to know tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, first time I get up in front of them, they need to see the direction we need to go. I'll give it to them.


(on if he sees a disadvantage to the general manager and head coach being on different time tables when a new head coach is hired)

Not necessarily, no. I've known Ruston (Webster) for a good while. Ruston is capable of collaborating pretty much with anyone and I think he'll do that with whoever our next head coach is, whether it's the man to my left or someone from outside the organization. I'm not at all concerned about that. Ruston understands how that has to work.

(on Ruston Webster's track record with draft picks and free agents and if that is what he wants)

You know, I've done a study of that for our ownership and sent that to our controlling owner. Yes, we're pretty comfortable with his record overall. I met with Ken (Whisenhunt) on a fairly regular basis, and with Ken and Ruston (Webster) from time to time, I never heard the indictment that you're talking about. He's never said anything like that to me, and didn't say anything like that to me this morning.

(on what he thinks of the caliber of the team right now)

Our defense played very well and our offensive line consists of rookies and people who are relatively inexperienced players for the most part, our tight ends aside. I think that I'm comfortable. I haven't heard Mike (Mularkey) complain about our roster. Everybody wants better players. I think what I said was that the head coach and the general manager need to be on the same page about those decisions. My understanding is that Ken (Whisenhunt) and Ruston (Webster) have long been on the same page about personnel decisions.

(on evaluating Ruston Webster)

I think all of us, I think myself, I think Mike (Mularkey) and Ruston (Webster) will all be evaluated for the rest of this season and the performance that we have. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Everybody in our league gets evaluated every season. I think that a lot will depend on what happens the rest of this season and how our players perform in terms of evaluating Ruston. But he has a record. I think the things that I looked at and provided to our controlling owner led me to believe that his draft picks are about average league-wide, in terms of the number of them who are still on our roster and are playing. We do have some weaknesses here, including on the offensive side of the ball, but you know, we also haven't had our starting quarterback, we have a lot of injuries on the offensive line. All of those things have to be taken into account. I haven't heard either the current head coach or the former head coach complain about roster decisions that Ruston has made.

(on if he would consider accepting the role of President/CEO full time and if there has been talk of that happening)

There have not been any conversations about that. I want our ownership to feel like they have the option to evaluate everyone that's at sort of the top level of our organization. If they were to ask me if I wanted to stay, among the things I would consider is that their family has paid me for almost 40 years to work for them. So how ungrateful would I be to say, 'No, I'm not going to work for you anymore after the first of the year.' I would never do that to them, and neither would anyone else in my positon. I'm very loyal to them and to their family and if they thought enough of me to ask me to stay, well of course I would consider it. But I would also like for them to have the option to make that decision on their own and to feel free to pick somebody else if that's what they want.

(on if ownership has reiterated that the team is not for sale)

Yes, the team is not for sale. It's never been for sale. I don't know where the stories about the team being for sale came from. They never said the team was for sale.  I've never said the team was for sale.


(on if he has spoken to Marcus Mariota since the coaching change)

It wasn't a lengthy conversation, but I did speak with him. I probably have talked to about a dozen players that are in here working out and getting ready for New Orleans. But it was positive, I just told him we're going to do a couple things different with him. Try to make sure he stays upright and it was really just, not real in-depth. But we're on the same page.

(on protecting the quarterback and how much of a priority that is for him)

I think obviously, based on what's happened in the last couple of weeks with the protections, that's imperative. That's part of the 'don't beat yourself' mentality.  The guy is so accurate, if we can get the ball out like he's capable of doing, I think you'll see a lot of improvements in a lot of different areas, especially on third down. I think that will improve.


(on why he thinks the franchise has had a hard time getting back to where it once was)

I think among the things, I always look first at the quarterback. We had a great deal of difficulty, for example, part of the time when I was retired, keeping our quarterback healthy. You really don't need to look very far beyond that to figure out that great teams in franchises that succeed long-term have elite quarterbacks or near elite quarterbacks, and it takes time to develop one of those. In the case of Jake (Locker), he could never stay healthy for very long. That's always a problem. I don't care how good the rest of your team is. If you don't have the right kind of quarterback, it's hard to succeed long-term. We now have another rookie quarterback who is very promising, and I think our future is bright. For that matter, we're still in contention for our division championship, despite where we are in the standings. The season is not over, I would remind everybody in the room that we are only a game and a half out of first place in our division, and still have lots of games left to play. I don't want to put too much pressure on our new head coach, but we're not out of the race at all. I think that everybody needs to take that into account in judging our team. But to answer your question, so much in our league begins and ends with the quarterback. Yeah, you need a great defense. Our defense is playing very well, as well as they've played in some time. We just need to do better on offense.

(on who hired Ken Whisenhunt)

I wasn't here when Ken (Whisenhunt) was hired. My understanding is the decision was made by the former president, Tommy Smith.

(on if ownership was concerned that further damage was done when Marcus Mariota was injured)

I didn't hear that exact concern. I did hear Amy (Adams Strunk), she has repeatedly mentioned Marcus (Mariota)'s health to me. I think she actually spoke to Mike (Mularkey) about it this morning. I know she had talked to Ken (Whisenhunt) about it and to Ruston (Webster). She is very concerned about making sure that we do everything that's necessary, including keeping him out of games, in order to avoid making his current injuries any worse.


(on how he would describe the degree to which the assistant coaches are on the same page and how vocal the disagreements were if any)

There's nothing vocal, we're all on the same page. We work well together, really well together. There is never going to be a time that everybody agrees with everything, but when the day is over and we walk out the door, we're in total agreement of how things should be done. That's every staff that I've been on. First of all, you want all the input you can, take it all in and gather that information. Sometimes guys take it personal, but they don't take it to a point that there's going to be any vocal. We've been on the same page. We've been full-speed ahead with what we've been doing, just need to change some things. Now we're making changes.

(on if the offensive line issues can be solved in-house on a short-term basis)

We're going to find out. I haven't had a chance to sit down with Ruston (Webster) at all in regards to our personnel and what we're going to do. I think he has a good idea of what our thoughts are on the offensive line, but our roster right now is a roster that is going to get us out of the hole we're in. If we make some changes, that's something Ruston and I will talk about, but right now, we're talking about in-house changes.


(on what the next few months will look like in terms of the search process for a new head coach)

We've only really started the process of sort of outlining details about doing a head coach search. We've done it before, we could do that again. We sort of look in silos for different kinds of head coach candidates. The last time we were looking for a head coach, we ended up starting with a list of about 100 people, and over the process of several weeks, several days, we narrowed that down to less than 10. We ended up with four or so candidates on the list, one of them is sitting beside me (Mike Mularkey), I might add, and interviewed those people after Jeff (Fisher) had left. But we'll do that same thing here again. We'll do a very wide search looking among all kinds of candidates, people who are coordinators, people who are former head coaches and not working, people who are head coaches and may lose their job, college coaches. We'll have a group of candidates organized into categories, and then sort of narrow that down. Because we've already made a decision about our former head coach, we can start that process a little earlier. You can't talk to the guys that are still working, but you can certainly put them on the list and try to evaluate them that way internally. Plus, we have Ruston (Webster) here, he's also been through that process, he can help with that. We'll also work with our ownership group and with our controlling owner about the candidates, and at the same time we'll be conducting an evaluation of Mike (Mularkey).


(on if it is a daunting feeling to have nine games to win a head coaching position)

The old cliché, I'm just going to take the Saints on and see if we can get this one first. Then I'll worry about everything else. But this is an important game for us.


(on the state of the organization)

I see only improvement, at least from the time that I've been here. We had a very difficult problem in our ticket office before I got here. I think we have that pretty much squared away and put to bed. We had a lot of great people in our organization working to try and get that done. We also had some deficiencies in our stadium operation. I think we have most of those corrected. We always want to do better. We want our suite holders and our PSL (personal seat license) holders, all of our guests at Nissan Stadium to have a great experience. We think that we're getting there where that is concerned. Aramark, as you know, this past week replaced their manager at the stadium. We've also started a number of physical upgrades to the building. Our new partnership with Nissan has been tremendous. It has already changed the face of our stadium on game day. It will only get better over time. I think our employees in general believe that we're on the right track. People tell me that our employees are more comfortable in the situation with our front office than they have been in some time, so I feel good about where we are. Change is never easy. Changing head coaches is never easy. It's always a difficult thing to do, but I think it's a positive thing for our organization and for our fans. We have someone who's done it before on our staff and who has indicated already to me his excitement about taking over and trying to help us get a better footing on the field, so I think we're all headed in the right direction. I think all those things are pluses and positives. Do we still have things we need to work on? You bet. But we're spending every day and sometimes nights trying to work on those things and get us where we need to be.

(on if the money owed to Ken Whisenhunt was a concern in the decision to fire him)

Never a consideration. In all my years with our organization, both with Mr. (Bud) Adams and now with Amy (Adams Strunk), I have never seen them shy away from spending money to help us get better. I never saw Mr. Adams turn down signing a player, turn down signing a free agent, draft somebody high in the draft and not be willing to pay them what he thought they were worth. That's something that our organization has really been blessed about, is that our ownership has never been afraid to spend money to try and get better.

(on if he thinks Ken Whisenhunt expected this)

That's a question you'd just have to ask Ken (Whisenhunt). I don't know. He didn't seem terribly surprised to me when Ruston (Webster) and I met with him this morning, but you never know. He may have thought that he might get another few weeks. I just don't know. You would need to ask him.


(on how his style is different than Ken Whisenhunt's)

Probably a little more, maybe vocal, in team meetings. A little bit more, I'm going to preach what I believe in, not that he didn't. This is hard for me to even sit here and compare with Ken (Whisenhunt) because of my relationship with him and my respect for him. But I really can't say there's something that's going to stick out one thing over the other from me to him, other than I know I'm kind of put in a position right here where I've got to get a team out of a 1-6 start, and I'm going to do what I can. One thing I tell the tight ends, and they know this, is do your job and do the best you can so you can come home, feel good about yourself, feel good about being around your family and that's all I expect from you. That's all I'm going to expect from these guys. That's the way I approach work and that's the way it's going to be done.

(on if players who haven't been performing well in the run game will have a fresh start)

I think we have a really young offensive group. There are some guys on the offensive line, the backs, obviously, the receivers. I think now that there is change, they maybe need to have a talking to that this is what's expected. I know they've had one, but this is in store for another one. They're hearing the same message, but we we've got to do better, and some of our young guys, we've got to put some more pressure on them to play better.


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