When NFL coaches are let go on Black Monday or soon thereafter, those coaches with teams in the playoffs are immune. After all, they still have games to play and their presence in the playoffs normally means that their teams have done mostly good things over the course of the season. When a team in the playoffs then wins a first-round game and moves on, the typical scenario is that the team moves forward with its head coach and may have to replace an assistant or two in the off-season.
That is not the case in Tennessee. After the Titans made the playoffs – as a wild-card team – and then won their first-round game on the road over the Chiefs, they lost badly to the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Round. And then, the Titans fired head coach Mike Mularkey citing a “failure to find common ground” on how to improve the Titans in the future. I have no idea what that really means, but let me offer a couple of facts that should be germane to the decision the Titans made:
- Mularkey took over in the middle of the 2015 season. In his 9 games in that season the Titans were 2-7; they finished at 3-13 for the 2015 season. Combined with the 2014 season, the Titans were 5-27. For comparison purposes, in the 2014/15 seasons, the Browns were 10-22 and the Jags were 8-24. When Mike Mularkey finished his season as the interim coach of the Titans it was a bad team.
- In each of the last two seasons, Mularkey and the Titans posted a 9-7 record. They missed the playoffs in 2016 but made it this year and won a wild-card game. Oh, by the way, this is the first time the Titans have been in the playoffs since 2008.
- It is not as if winning a playoff game is commonplace for the Titans. The last playoff victory came in 2003 and Steve McNair was the QB for that team.
I do not mean to anoint Mike Mularkey as some sort of nascent coaching legend; but considering his 2.5 years with the Titans, it would seem as if he had something going in the right direction. Even the blowout loss to the Patriots is not as bad as it might look. Oddsmakers had the line on the game set at 13.5 points and that is a huge spread for any playoff game. The expectation was for the Pats to win handily – – and that is what happened.
The Titans should be attractive to assistant coaches looking to move up the coaching ladder. They have a young franchise QB that is developing; they have two stud running backs; they have a solid defensive unit that ranks in the middle of the league in yards per game and in points per game. If I were such a candidate, I would worry only about the rational decision making of the “head shed”. I would be cognizant of what Mularkey did with a bad team and how he was fired because of a “failure to find common ground” and I would surely want to know what sort of “common ground” I was supposed to find and maintain.
I look at the firing of the head coach in Tennessee after a bad playoff loss and then turn my gaze to Pittsburgh where the Steelers lost a game in a far worse fashion than did the Titans and the coach is seemingly bullet-proof. Let me state without qualification:
- When the Pittsburgh Steelers score 42 points in a home game, they are supposed to win that game.
- When the Pittsburgh Steelers allow 45 points to an opponent in Heinz Field, the QB they are facing is not supposed to be of the caliber of Blake Bortles.
Indeed, there were some strange play calls for the Steelers along the way and I personally would not have tried an onside kick with a little over 2 minutes left in the game. Having said that, there was something missing from the Steelers’ players on the field last weekend and yet there is no real pressure that has been put on Mike Tomlin or his staff.
Jason Whitlock on Speak For Yourself yesterday suggested that Mike Tomlin is a black head coach of a team owned by the Rooney’s who are the champions of the “Rooney Rule” that mandates interviewing minority coaches for openings. He said that makes it difficult for the team to fire Mike Tomlin for anything as nebulous as what happened last weekend. After all, the Steelers did post a 13-3 record in the regular season this year.
I am not ready to go as far as Jason Whitlock has gone here. I am surprised, however, that offensive coordinator, Todd Haley has not received nearly as much criticism as I think he deserves for some of his play calls during the game. I am not saying he should be fired; but he did pull some strange plays from his play sheet in that game.
Since I am on the topic of NFL coaches today, let me go from the top end of the ladder to the bottom rung. Hue Jackson is retained as the coach of the Cleveland Browns despite a winless season in 2017 and a combined 2-year record of 1-31. Let me be clear; the Browns lost all those games because the Browns’ roster was not competitive with the rest of the league; Hue Jackson did not make his squad massively overachieve but even if they had massively overachieved, the cumulative record might have been 6-26. Notwithstanding the bad hand he was dealt, Hue Jackson – and the Browns’ Front Office – need to step up their game to avoid seeing Jackson descend into what I call “Rick Venturi Territory”. Consider:
- Venturi coached the Indy Colts to a 1-10 record.
- Venturi coached the New Orleans Saints to a 1-7 record.
- Venturi coached the Northwestern Wildcats to a 1-31-1 record.
- Cumulative coaching record is 3-48-1.
The only thing saving Hue Jackson from being awarded the “Venturi Medal” today is that he also has one year as the head coach in Oakland where the Raiders went 8-8. However, another 1-15 record in Cleveland next year would make his Browns’ record look very “Venturi-like” …
Finally, here are two comments from sports writers regarding an overseas election:
“Former soccer superstar George Weah, 51, has been elected president of Liberia.
“Which certainly puts a whole new spin on the expression ‘voting with your feet’.” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]
“George Weah, a former soccer star, has been elected president of Liberia.
“He isn’t planning on issuing pink slips to anyone hired by the previous administration, just red cards.” [Brad Rock, Deseret News]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………