Playoff coach reportedly could be fired if team loses in wild-card round


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Just reaching the playoffs might not be good enough for one of the eight coaches battling it out on wild-card weekend.

The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says Titans coach Mike Mularkey might be playing for his job in his team’s game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, as a loss could spell the end of his tenure in Tennessee.

Mularkey led the Titans to a 9-7 record and their first playoff appearance in nine seasons. He took over as interim coach midway through the 2015 season after the team fired Ken Whisenhunt.

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After finishing 2015 with a 2-7 record, Mularkey posted back-to-back 9-7 seasons, but many believe that the team has regressed this season. The Titans posted a minus-22 point differential, which is second worst among the 12 playoff teams. The other 11 postseason teams have an average point differential of plus-97.

Another concern is the regression shown by quarterback Marcus Mariota. After posting a 26-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season, Mariota had 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this season.

After the Titans fell into a 14-0 hole vs. the Chiefs in the first quarter, some were even joking that Mularkey might not even make it to the end of the game.

Rapoport believes Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would be the Titans’ top target if they are to let Mularkey go. McDaniels has already interviewed with multiple teams that have head coach openings and didn’t make the playoffs. If Tennessee is preparing for the 2018 season next week and not another playoff game, then members of their front office are expected to visit New England in order to interview him.

In McDaniels’ 12 seasons as either an offensive coordinator or head coach, his teams have led the league in scoring five times, including both 2016 and 2017.

By comparison, in Mularkey’s 14 seasons as either offensive coordinator or head coach, his teams have finished in the top 10 in scoring just five times.

Many expected Mularkey to be fired if the Titans lost in Week 17 and missed out on the playoffs. Even after they won and clinched a postseason spot, Rapoport relayed ominous signs of the head coach’s future.

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Mularkey isn’t the only one in the Titans-Chiefs game who could be on the way out pending the result.

Alex Smith of the Chiefs could be playing his final game with Kansas City as many expect the team to turn to first-round pick Patrick Mahomes next season.

Kansas City is open to trading Smith this offseason, and a popular destination is Cleveland. New Browns General Manager John Dorsey was the GM in Kansas City from 2013 to 2016, and he could be interested in reuniting with Smith.

One way or another, there are expected to be major changes for the loser of the Titans-Chiefs wild-card game.

Update: Fortunately for Mularkey, the Titans rallied from a 21-3 deficit to win the game 22-21.

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Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009.
Ross Kelly has been a sportswriter since 2009 and previously worked for ESPN, CBS and STATS Inc. A native of Louisiana, Ross now resides in Houston.
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