Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mariota's influence extends to Titans coaching search

In my previous professional life as sports columnist for The Tennessean, I collaborated with Dave Ammenheuser on a list of the most influential sports figures in Middle Tennessee.

The list, which was published in September, put Marcus Mariota at No. 4.

Based on recent developments, it looks like we undersold his influence. Upon further review, he should be moved up -- three spots.

How much influence does Mariota have? So much that Titans management plans to share its list of finalists for the head coaching position with him before making a decision.

"Like with anything else, I think we would at least like for him to know and have his view of those people," said Steve Underwood, Titans president/CEO. "I think that would be important."

Note, please, that Underwood didn't say management would run the list past, say, Delanie Waker or Jurrell Casey. Among Titans players, the list is for Mariota's eyes only.

I'm telling you, the guy's got some clout.

I understand the desire to keep Mariota engaged. As it stands, he looks like something the Titans have lacked for a decade -- a true franchise quarterback.

Just the same, let's not get carried away here. We're not talking about Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning. We're talking about a guy that just finished his rookie season, a year in which he showed great promise but also a year where he missed one-fourth of the team's games due to injury.

This, though, is how the Titans' inexperienced ownership group sees things. Mariota is the one thing this organization has going for it. And the owners are doing everything they can to keep him happy, healthy and involved.

You can make the argument that Mariota's well-being is what got Ken Whisenhunt fired at midseason. Likewise, the fact that Mike Mularkey is being seriously considered for the permanent head coaching position is due to the way he handled Mariota in the final nine games of a terrible season.

Mularkey got the job on an interim basis because Whisenhunt's offense and protection schemes were getting Mariota killed (19 sacks in five games, plus a two-game hiatus due to a sprained knee). Of course, a 3-20 record over two seasons didn't help Whisenhunt's cause.

On Nov. 3, the day of Whisenhunt's ouster and Mularkey's elevation, Underwood said controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk had indicated to him that Mariota's health was a primary concern.

Note: This is the way things go at Titans Central. The controlling owner says something to the president/CEO, who conveys it to the public. Some organizations would cut out the middle man and have the owner meet with the media when there are major developments. Not the Titans.

"Amy has repeatedly mentioned Marcus' health to me," Underwood said. "... She's very concerned about making sure we do everything necessary, including keeping him out of games, in order to avoid making his current injuries any worse."

Mularkey's a smart man. He took the hint. He realized his future with the franchise depended on keeping his quarterback upright and out of the hospital.

Protecting Mariota became Job 1. And Mularkey did a decent job of it -- for awhile. In his debut as interim head coach, Mariota went virtually untouched in a 34-28 victory at New Orleans. He was sacked just once the following week in a loss to Carolina.

In time, though, the Titans week offensive line and other breakdowns (running back Antonio Andrews failed to execute in blitz protection when Mariota suffered what proved to be a season-ending knee injury against New England), were too much for any coach to overcome.

In retrospect, it is fair to wonder if Whisenhunt got a bad rap. It is impossible to overcome a bad offensive line. And that's what the Titans had, despite all the investments via the draft and free agency.

As for Mularkey, his final pitch for getting the head coaching gig was to hold Mariota out of the season finale at Indianapolis at a time when the rookie may very well have been able to play.

Moving forward, we'll see how much weight that carries when Titans management runs its list of coaching finalists past Mariota for his approval.

Reach David Climer on Twitter @DavidClimer.


  1. It sure is good to continue to see your work. I would love to see your short list for GM.

  2. Keeping Marcus out in Indy also increased the Titans' chances at securing this year's number one draft pick. Glad to find you here, David.

  3. As for G.M., it looks like the Titans are on the right track, although I still think it's going to be a tough hire because of the ownership issues. I do think they should at least talk to Bill Polian and see what his response is. Thanks for the kind comments.