Titans go the safe route with Mularkey

January 3, 2016: Tennessee Titans interim head coach Mike Mularkey during the NFL game between the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

The sexy girl at the bar is the one everyone wants,at least until Rachael Leigh Cook takes off her glasses.

For those of you not all that well versed in late-1990s romantic comedies, that reference is a more modern example of the theory that sizzle is not necessarily the best option, especially when the steak is around the corner.

Many in Nashville yawned when the Titans took the interim tag off of Mike Mularkey and elevated the former NFL tight end to full-time head coach, calling it an uninspired move from a franchise worried about money and the lack of a significant offset for Ken Whisenhunt, who is still owed around $15 million, a number that isn’t coming down all that significantly now that the former Tennessee mentor will be back earning offensive-coordinator with the Chargers.

You would have to be a fool to not recognize that money was a big part in all of this and the last thing the Adams family wanted was another big-money coach like Chip Kelly with no guarantee of success.

The Kelly name is key, of course, because most using remedial math figured two and two equaled Kelly reuniting with Marcus Mariota, presumably the perfect combination for both sides of that coach-and-quarterback duo.

The four-person panel committee that engaged in the search — owner Amy Adams Strunk, co-owner Kenneth Adams, team president Steve Underwood and VP of football operations Vin Marino — hardly went the traditional route, ignoring all of the so-called “hot” candidate, names like Kelly, Adam Gase and Hue Jackson.

New general manager Jon Robinson was in on the team’s four publicized interviews but the thought that he would be interested in waiting for New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels never materialized either, probably because the decision was already made to stay status quo with Mularkey, who has a less than inspiring 18-39 record as an NFL head coach with Buffalo, Jacksonville and the Titans, where he was 2-7 as Whisenhunt’s replacement in 2015.

The timing of yet another deep run in the playoffs for the Patriots means McDaniels isn’t going anywhere again so perhaps this is just a placeholder hire while Robinson gets his feet wet and some of Whisenhunt’s deal is paid off without the burden of another heavy contract at head coach.

It also prevents Mariota from hearing a third voice in just his second year as a professional, something very important to the continuity aspect of a young signal caller’s learning curve.

That said Strunk is impressed with one aspect Mularkey brings to the table, the belief that Mariota, the presumed face of the franchise, should be protected at all costs.

Mariota has some brilliant individual moments during his rookie season but he’s also not Cam Newton physically and he’s not going to hold up long-term in this league by going heavy read-option week after week.

If you bring Kelly in, the Titans were certainly going all in on the Oregon system and it’ hard to imagine their young quarterback playing 16 games in any season with the kind of punishment taken while running that offense.

“The vision Mike presented for our football team during this search as well as the character, integrity, and leadership skills he displayed during the last two months of the season makes him the right coach for the Tennessee Titans,” Strunk said while announcing the hire.

That vision is moving away from the predominant spread look in order to make Mariota a more well-rounded player and also keep him on the field as much as possible.

Whether Mularkey is able to accomplish that is up for debate but his steak sounds a lot better than some of the sizzle that was out there.

“Mike is a quality coach and an outstanding person who will help us build this team the right way,” Strunk continued. “He has experience as a head coach and a track record for developing young quarterbacks and dynamic offenses, and he also brings continuity for our franchise quarterback. We understand this may take time as we rebuild the roster and bring in new coaches for Mike’s staff, but we believe he has the experience and expertise to build a consistent winner.”

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmulle44@gmail.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season every day at 4:05 ET on ESPN South Jersey, 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 Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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