From the worst team in the entire NFL, to the cusp of a playoff birth, the Tennessee Titans exceeded every expectation that was put on them going into the 2016 season.
How did the Titans do it?
Amy Adams Strunk
It starts with the shift in ownership. Once Bud Adams died in 2013, the franchise was not prepared for what was next. Tommy Smith tried his hand at CEO, and the team began to crumble from the inside. He was the one who hand picked Ken Whisenhunt, who ended up being a complete disaster, going 3-20 as head coach.
Everything changed in May of 2015. That was when new owner Amy Adams Strunk began the process of rebuilding the two-tone blue. One month in, the Titans signed a $100 million 20-year stadium naming rights contract with Nissan. The home of the Titans finally had a name, and with that money they’ve replaced every single seat, slapped a new coat of paint on the entire structure, addressed this ticket line issues and finally the stadium looks like it’s not decaying in the middle of the city of Nashville.
Seven games into the that season, she started to cut the fat within the facility. It began with the firing of Whisenhunt and soon after, general manager Ruston Webster was relieved of his duties. Strunk was making changes but the big decisions would come on who would replace the football operation heads.
She knew it would take time, but the way the Titans franchise has changed since she became the controlling owner is remarkable.
The savior, some would say. The single best thing that Strunk did was hire general manager Jon Robinson. He had the fearlessness to begin his tenure with two massive moves in the offseason. First, Robinson moved back just 13 spots in the fourth round of the draft to acquire running back Demarco Murray from the Eagles. The trade paid off. Murray led the AFC in rushing with 1,266 yards and did it all while having with a torn plantar plate in his right foot.
Next, was the decision to find the right trade partner for the number one overall draft pick. He did just that. The Titans took advantage of a desperate coach and received a future first round pick, along with others, to set 2017 up for a major franchise changing draft. The Rams did exactly what Tennessee needed them to do, be awful. Now the Titans have a top five pick to go along with the 18th overall selection.
Top 10 picks in the 2017 NFL draft:
5 Titans (via Rams)
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 2, 2017
Robinson gave confidence and hope to a fan base that was losing faith in their football team. His strategic moves last offseason help make 2016 a success.
The coach who no one believed in proved a lot of people wrong in 2016. Mularkey is a players coach who didn’t get any credit because he was unable to win in bad situations (Buffalo & Jacksonville). After his first season as head coach, he made the Titans an above .500 team for the first time since 2011.
The main reason for Mularkey’s success was the team philosophy. Robinson created the Exotic Smashmouth montra and Mularkey made it work. He also won the trust of the players while doing it.
#Titans QB Marcus Mariota: “Guys continue to believe in the culture that Coach Mularkey is building. We have believed from the beginning.”
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) December 18, 2016
Mularkey cares. He loves the team and the people he works with and that will make someone work extremely hard. The emotion that came out after the Kansas City win tells you everything you need to know about Mularkey as a person.
The 9-7 season raises expectations moving forward, but it seems like Mike Mularkey has learned from his coaching experience and has put himself in a good situation.
Marcus Mariota is the best thing that the roster has. He’s a franchise player who is smart, intelligent and has the leadership qualities to lead the Tennessee Titans to where they want to go. Prior to his ankle injury, Mariota threw for over 3,400 yards and 26 touchdown passes to only nine interceptions. In just his second year in the pros, he’s doing things that great quarterbacks do.
We’ve seen nine different quarterbacks start for the Titans since Steve McNair, and Mariota is the only one with the ‘it’ factor. 2016 showed that he wins in a plethora of ways. He can blow teams out like the Jaguars on Thursday Night Football. He led come from behind game winning drives against Detroit and Kansas City. He can throw for four touchdowns and have a flawless game like he did against Green Bay. These are the type of qualities you want in a quarterback and Marcus Mariota has them.
But it won’t come easy.
Marcus is going to be tested this offseason. The mental fortitude he needs to jump back from his fractured fibula will be unlike anything he’s ever experienced. This is the first major injury of his football career, and the rehabilitation process will be key to make sure that his progress as a quarterback is unwavered.
Amy Adams Strunk, Jon Robinson, Mike Mularkey and Marcus Mariota all were a part of the success in 2016, but the number one thing was beginning to earn back the trust of the fans.
Trust is earned, not given, but Titans fans are starting to get excited about football again. If they continue to move in the direction they’re heading, maybe, just maybe, Nashville can have a parade that features the Vince Lombardi trophy in the near future.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) January 1, 2017