NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Interim Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Mularkey emphasized he’s friends with Ken Whisenhunt.
The new guy who will lead Tennessee made clear he didn't want to take shots at the boss who was just fired.
Much of what Mularkey said he would do, we can find indications of things Whisenhunt was not doing. Whisenhunt never did well to identify the Titans' identity, though he talked about being tough and physical and smart. His teams never looked to be those things.
Mularkey hit similar themes and said he’s got to deliver a message to the players right from the start in Wednesday morning’s meeting.
“As a position coach, coordinator and head coach, my philosophy has always been the same: be a tough, physical football team now,” he said. “That was my role with the tight ends. That’s their No. 1 thing. … Secondly, don't beat yourself. That’s the biggest thing in this business. If you turn the ball over, penalties, mental errors things like that, that’s the one thing I've been very proud of in my history. We've done a very good job of not doing that.”
Interim CEO/president Steve Underwood said controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk has repeatedly spoken with him about the health of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Mariota has missed the past two games after an illegal hit by Miami’s Olivier Vernon that left the quarterback with a sprained left knee. He’s absorbed 19 sacks, while Zach Mettenberger has taken nine, including seven Sunday in the loss at Houston.
Mularkey said better protection is “imperative.” He also said he intends to be more vocal and express his philosophy regularly and assigned offensive coordinator Jason Michael to call the plays.
Beyond protection schemes and overall offensive schemes, accountability was a theme with Whisenhunt. Some players and coaches felt like he never took the blame for anything.
Monday at his final news conference, I asked him why other teams in the second year of a new coaching regime were faring better than the Titans.
"Have you looked at their rosters?” he asked. “Have you looked at their situations?"
Thirty-five of the 53 players on the Titans' roster have joined the team since Whisenhunt had a hand in putting the team together, though obviously a share of them didn’t come in as quality free agents or high draft picks.
After he talked about being caught off guard by the request to take the job and his feelings for “close friend” Whisenhunt, Mularkey took a different tact in his very first comment as he was introduced.
“It’s time to turn the page,” he said, “and I’m looking forward to this opportunity with these guys and hopefully dig us out of the hole that we -- including myself -- put us in and move forward from this point on.”