NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mike Mularkey is returning as Tennessee Titans head coach and is talking with the team about a contract extension that would keep him in town beyond the 2018 season, a league source confirmed to ESPN.
Initial talks began last week following the Titans' 22-21 wild-card playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Titans made progress in 2017, finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. They overcame an 18-point deficit at Kansas City to win their first playoff game since the 2003 season. Their season ended with a 35-14 divisional-round playoff loss at New England. Mularkey has gone 19-15 (including playoffs) in his two seasons as full-time head coach. His contract is currently set to expire following the 2018 season.
It seems the Titans' playoff run and growing culture has contributed to the team's decision to stick with Mularkey despite some offensive struggles. The Titans finished 23rd in the NFL in total offense and passing offense.
"Yeah, we're moving forward full speed ahead," Mularkey said Sunday afternoon in his end-of-season news conference, while declining to address the status of his extension talks. "Going to give the coaches off this week and get us into the Senior Bowl next week. Got a lot of work to do with two weeks into the offseason already."
There was a lot of speculation and reports regarding Mularkey's uncertain job security prior to Week 17's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the playoffs and the Kansas City matchup a week later. Mularkey called the situation "ridiculous" and noted the lack of support he felt from the Titans organization. Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk gave him a vote of confidence that has led to his 2018 return and likely longer.
NFL Network was the first to report Mularkey's extension talks with the Titans.
Moving forward, the Titans are happy with their progress but hoping they can reach the next level of being a championship contender in coming seasons.
Mularkey said he does not anticipate making changes to his staff while lauding the job that offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie has done as the team's playcaller. Mularkey also said he has not talked with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, or his other assistants, but he was happy with LeBeau's job as defensive coordinator and anticipates he will return.
"He's an amazing man," Mularkey said.
LeBeau, 80, has 59 consecutive seasons as a NFL player or coach. He makes his decision on whether to return on a yearly basis after the season is over.
Mularkey's desire for continuity on his staff coincides with his happiness in quarterback Marcus Mariota's development. Mariota had his worst season statistically as a NFL QB in 2017, throwing for a career-low 13 passing touchdowns and career-high 15 interceptions during the regular season, but Mularkey linked those numbers to the various injuries Mariota suffered during the season, and some mistakes by his young receivers.
A Mularkey extension would make any potential open assistant position on his coaching staff more attractive for outside candidates.
The next challenge for Mularkey and his staff is to figure out how to maximize Mariota's skill set and elevate the offense to match up better against the AFC's elite teams. This will be more important next season as the AFC South strengthens with Jacksonville's emergence along with the likely returns of quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Andrew Luck to the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts, respectively.