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VOL. 40 | NO. 2 | Friday, January 8, 2016

Looks like Mularkey has good shot at Titans' head coaching job

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The Tennessee Titans shook off the doldrums created by a season of three wins and very little entertainment on Monday as ownership rocked the franchise to its very foundation.

Amy Adams Strunk, seldom seen and never heard around these parts, made major changes to the team by keeping Steve Underwood as team president permanently and removing the interim tag from his title.

But she was far from finished, dispatching Underwood to dismiss general manager Ruston Webster just nine weeks after she bumped off Ken Whisenhunt as head coach.

If Titans fans wanted change, then short of getting the new ownership that many fans covet, Strunk and Underwood gave it to them. The franchise now at least gives the appearance of embarking on a new direction with both a new coach and new general manager.

There is still the possibility – and perhaps a strong one after talking with sources – that interim coach Mike Mularkey will follow Underwood and have the interim tag removed from his title as well.

But things are in a state of flux at St. Thomas Sports Park as the Titans head into the off-season armed with the first pick in the draft and not knowing who will make that selection or coach him.

This is nothing new, since we have become accustomed to unrest and instability with the Titans over the past several years. And each time changes are made, there is the hope that this will be the change that gets the Titans going in the right direction.

With that in mind, Strunk is a football novice, and there is certainly a strong case to be made questioning the wisdom of her leading the search to find both a new coach and general manager without seeking the input of a “football person” before acting.

But give her credit in one regard. For an absentee owner, she has toppled the apple cart plenty since taking control of the club from brother-in-law Tommy Smith last March.

Just to hit the highlights on her watch, the Titans have secured a naming rights partnership with Nissan, eaten $17 million of her family’s money to make Whisenhunt go away and now has parted ways with Webster and talked Underwood into staying on board.

Plus, she has placed herself in charge of the new coach/GM search.

That doesn’t sound like someone who is eager to sell off her late father’s franchise as so many national writers and reports continue to suggest.

In talking to sources familiar with the situation, those “reports” of the Titans being for sale seem to be emanating perhaps from the league office, which might actually prefer that someone else own the team. That seemed to be reinforced after a weekend report suggested that the league and the Titans could be headed to court over the current ownership structure.

Sources in and around the situation have told me the family has no interest in selling the team, but the NFL is wary of the way things currently stand organization-wise.

Though Strunk is in charge of things, the league would seem to prefer that one person have real control, rather than only a one-third voice and serving as the franchise’s point person.

It’s not hard to understand the league’s point of view. In the two-plus years since Bud Adams died, there has already been one family coup that ended with Smith out and Strunk in control of the operation.

Who’s to say that another family squabble couldn’t sway control toward another ownership member down the road?

That may be why Underwood’s continued presence is so vital.

First, he is a trusted family friend who may be able to appease the NFL that all is well (or well enough) with the ownership.

Second, Underwood, even though he is well known in league circles, has the family’s interests in mind, first and foremost.

If the talked-about litigation over the ownership structure comes to fruition, it isn’t the worst thing that Underwood himself, who is a lawyer by trade, is the point person representing the family in this regard.

How things unfold and how far-reaching the changes ultimately will be for the Titans franchise remain to be seen.

But one thing is sure, Strunk may be keeping quiet, but she is not standing idly by.

Five head coach candidates to watch

1. Mike Mularkey, Titans interim coach

Mularkey has the added advantage or perhaps disadvantage of having finished out the string after Ken Whisenhunt was fired.

He didn’t have many wins to show for his efforts, but he seemed to earn respect from people in the organization who count.

My sources say don’t bet against Mularkey being a real contender for the permanent gig.

2. Adam Gase, Chicago Bears offensive coordinator

The Titans say they want a coach who can help develop Marcus Mariota to his full potential as a quarterback. Steve Underwood even said they would like to have Mariota meet with the coaching finalists.

But Gase is coveted by several teams this off-season, which would mean the Titans might have to move fast. Since the Bears are not in the playoffs, he can be hired immediately.

3. Hue Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator

Jackson is another interesting offensive mind that the Titans would be wise to at least consider.

His work in helping Andy Dalton reach another level is impressive, but the fact that he has helped keep the Bengals’ offense going with untested A.J. McCarron is an even greater feat.

4. Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots offensive coordinator

McDaniels has been working on rehabbing his image since a failed stint as the Denver Broncos head coach.

What better way to do that than working back with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady? The questions, however, about that first stint in Denver and how much of his current success is his own vs. that of Belichick/Brady are things that will have to be answered.

5. Jim Schwartz, former Titans defensive coordinator and former Lions head coach

He might be a long shot, but he is still well-respected in certain corners of the organization. He knows defense and has head coaching experience. Sometimes coaches – Belichick and Pete Carroll, for example – learn from a failed head coaching stint. It might be worth a phone call to see what Schwartz has learned.

Five GM candidates to watch

1. Blake Beddingfield, Titans director of college scouting

Steve Underwood said the Titans have a history of looking inside to find qualified candidates. And on the GM side, Beddingfield is it. A home-grown product of the Titans organization, he has worked his way up through the ranks in the scouting department and has ties to the days when the team was successful. He played a key role in scouting, grading and recommending many of the club’s better draft picks, including Chris Johnson and Marcus Mariota.

2. Eric DeCosta, Baltimore Ravens assistant GM

DeCosta has been a name floated around the league for several years as a GM-ready guy.

However, he has shown a reluctance to leave Baltimore, and with the Ravens struggling this season, posting a 5-11 record, there could be some eyebrows raised in going after a guy helping run a team that didn’t fare much better than the Titans in 2015.

3. Nick Cesario, New England Patriots director of player personnel

Cesario is the right-hand man of Bill Belichick and handles many of the talent evaluation and roster moves. Belichick has a say over the Patriots’ personnel, and the question regarding Cesario is how involved is he. Previous coaches and front office people who have left the Patriots’ nest – Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini, Scott Pioli – all failed away from New England.

4. Chris Ballard, Kansas City Chiefs director of player personnel

Ballard is a guy many people on the inside in the NFL believe is ready to assume bigger duties as a general manager. The Chiefs’ turnaround this season has been impressive, to be sure, and Ballard is the right-hand man for Chiefs GM John Dorsey.

5. Terry McDonough, Arizona Cardinals vice president of player personnel

The Cardinals were once an organization no one wanted to emulate, but of late they have built a roster that can compete with any in the NFL. McDonough has been part of that rebuilding process and might be worth a look to see if he can duplicate that in Tennessee.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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