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Titans name Mularkey interim coach

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Mike Mularkey showed up for work in Nashville early Tuesday morning planning to shape a plan the running game at New Orleans. Not long after he began his workday, Mularkey was a head coach for the third time and plans changes for the Tennessee Titans.

“As I told (president Steve Underwood), I kind of had to take a step back,” Mularkey said.

He will serve as interim coach after head coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired without warning. Whisenhunt reported to the team facility as per usual to learn he had been fired in a meeting with Underwood and general manager Ruston Webster. That decision was made by controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk.

Whisenhunt was 3-20 as head coach in Tennessee, including 1-6 this season. Only one coach in NFL history had was worse in his first 23 games with a team (John McKay, 0-23 from 1976-78).

“I’m grateful for the opportunity and appreciate the hard work the staff put in and the support I got from our players and our fans,” Whisenhunt said. “I wish the organization much success going forward.”

“We’ll cast a wide loop looking for a successor (at) head coach,” Underwood said. “This is a chance for him to audition for a permanent role.”

Mularkey, 16-32 as a head coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills, said he never thought a third opportunity would come. Adams Strunk will hire the next coach but Underwood said Webster would be involved in “genuine collaboration” to hire Whisenhunt’s replacement. She and Mularkey spoke by phone on Tuesday morning.

The primary offensive focus for the Titans’ organization is quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mularkey said consistency will breed confidence in Mariota. He compared the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft to past pupils — a cross between former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

“He has similarities to both of those guys. That’s dangerous for defenses,” Mularkey said of Mariota.

Mularkey is the third head coach for the Titans since 2011.

“I’m better now than I was a couple hours ago,” Mularkey said Tuesday at a midmorning press conference at the team facility. “She felt like there needed to be a change. That was the brunt of it. I’ll leave it at that.

Jason Michael will call plays for Mularkey.

“We have two former NFL coaches on our staff,” team president Steve Underwood said. “Our defense is playing very well. It’s not something we wanted to distract coach LeBeau about. … I don’t think there was a single straw that broke the camel’s back, as you put it. Amy has been considering for several weeks. … It was a process, not an event.”

Underwood said he was not asked many football questions by ownership because that is not his expertise. But he was asked about morale, and the effect on business under a dogpile of losses.

“You have some attrition in your season ticket sales, it effects your suite business. Our fans have been really loyal,” Underwood said. “All of those things have an effect on your television ratings, and you have to pay attention to that stuff.”

Underwood said Webster has ownership’s full support though he was not given a seat at the podium Tuesday next to the team’s president and Mularkey.

“Improvement in our business is measured in wins,” Underwood said of what ownership would consider ample improvement to retain Mularkey on a fulltime basis.


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