Mariota-Whisenhunt marriage was doomed from the start

A coach coming off a 2-14 season and a developmental quarterback mix like oil and water.

And that’s why it didn’t take Nostradamus to predict Ken Whisenhunt’s ultimate fate in Nashville with the only surprise being the timing. Although, after losing 20 of his last 23 games as the Titans’ mentor, perhaps an in-season pink slip should have been expected.

Whisenhunt was canned Tuesday and replaced by his assistant head coach Mike Mularkey, who has previous experience in the big chair with both Buffalo and Jacksonville.

Back in the offseason Tennessee was in a tough spot, second in a two-quarterback draft and unfortunately the player who fit the bill for what Whisenhunt wanted at the position, Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, was going No. 1 overall. That left Tennessee to either take Marcus Mariota, a one-read, spread-option QB at Oregon, or trade out of the spot.

If the Titans brass believed Whisenhunt was really the guy to turn around the franchise, the direction was obvious, swindle Chip Kelly and take the kitchen sink Philadelphia was offering for the apple of Chip’s eye.

So as soon as Tennessee handed in the card with Mariota’s name on it, Whisenhunt who was on the clock and his time expired Tuesday.

Understand the now ex-Titans coach made his bones in this game as a traditional quarterback whisperer, elevating the play of signal callers like Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner and Philip Rivers.

Mariota, conversely, never had to worry about progression-based football in Eugene and although by all accounts he’s a smart kid with top-tier physical skills for the position, his learning curve in that kind of system was always going to be very steep.

13 September 2015: Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) talks to Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt during a time out in the 2nd quarter of the NFL Week 1 game between the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL.

Ultimately, Mariota and Whisenhunt weren’t able to make it work together, although they maybe never had a chance.

And Whisenhunt refused to dumb down his offense for a player who came in unprepared to run a traditional pro set.

“After thoughtful consideration, the decision has been made to relieve Ken Whisenhunt of his head coaching duties,” Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk said in a statement. “We have expected more progress on the field, and I felt it was time to move in a different direction. I would like to thank Ken for his efforts with our team, as he worked very hard to try to move us forward.”

“More progress on the field” is code for utilizing Mariota’s strengths as a player.

The last straw for the coach was leaving an injured Mariota in the game on Oct. 18 against Miami after end Olivier Vernon hit the rookie near the knees. Mariota was noticeably limping and showed up for the second half with a knee brace, committing four turnovers in the 38-10 rout. He hasn’t played since and was diagnosed with a sprained MCL.

Some even had visions of Mike Shanahan leaving an injured Robert Griffin III in against Seattle in the playoffs, a decision that essentially derailed RG3’s career.

“I didn’t hear that exact concern,” Titans interim president Steve Underwood said. “(But Strunk) has repeatedly mentioned Marcus’ health to me.”

When it’s a 3-20 coach versus the shiny new QB sold as the face of the franchise, Whisenhunt never had a chance with the non-football people who had no idea what he was trying to accomplish.

“I think she actually spoke to Mike (Mularkey) about it this morning. I know she he had talked to Ken about it and to (general manager) Ruston (Webster),” Underwood continued. “She’s 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.”

Protecting Mariota on the field, like any quarterback, is paramount to any potential success. That said, protecting him from coaches who want to challenge him to become a better player is foolish.

There are two kinds of employees in this world, those who tell you exactly what you want to hear and those who look at their job description and try to accomplish the task put in front of them.

We now know understand what kind of worker Strunk wants.

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the The Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.

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