Ted Sundquist, former general manager of the Denver Broncos, jumped back on my radar a few months ago when he penned an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the process that led to the Broncos drafting Jay Cutler back in 2006. There was some enlightening stuff about your Houston Texans in the piece that I particularly enjoyed; upon me tweeting a recommendation of the article, Sundquist was kind enough to express appreciation for the feedback while also disclosing his Houston roots.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that I'm writing this post to praise yet another of Sundquist's peeks behind the curtain. This one was published today and details his recent interview with the Tennessee Titans for their vacant general manager gig, as well as how he would have attacked the job if he'd gotten hired. Although the job eventually went to Jon Robinson, it's a great read.
In addition to providing an examination of how a general manager might approach a new job, Sundquist includes some fascinating nuggets about the Titans organization itself. For example, you may recall that there were rumors the candidates interviewing for general manager were encouraged, if not outright told, to keep Mike Mularkey on as the head coach. Some observers went so far as to theorize that general manager candidates were eliminated from further consideration for the position if they expressed desire to hire someone other than Mularkey as the head coach. As you'd expect, the idea that keeping Mularkey as head coach, that he was somehow a made man within the Tennessee organization, didn't go over very well with Titans fans. When that troubling reality came to pass (with a three-year deal!), the reactions were almost universally negative.
But it was mere speculation, right? Surely the Titans' brass wasn't really pushing Mike Freaking Mularkey remaining as head coach as some sort of non-negotiable term during the general manager interview process. Sundquist doesn't go that far, but it's safe to say that he had misgivings about the idea of Mularkey having the interim tag removed if he (Sundquist) became GM. From Sundquist's article:
However, there were some early indications that ownership wasn’t necessarily looking for a complete diagnosis of its problems.
Interim head coach Mike Mularkey was well-liked for the manner in which he had healed the organization from the previous head coach’s ill-suited style, even if it meant only two additional wins over the final nine games.
But Mularkey’s overall record was part of the "blood work" that spoke volumes to me about the future health of the club. A .316 winning percentage with three different teams is usually not what puts you on anyone’s radar in the NFL.
He suddenly resigned after only two seasons in Buffalo amid mixed reviews from the fans, the media and, most importantly, his players (some of whom I’d spoken with prior to my interview).
He had privately lamented the lack of talent in Jacksonville during his single season as the head coach there, and in my outsider’s opinion, he had appeared to lose control of the roster within. Jags GM David Caldwell had worked with Mularkey in Atlanta and yet chose to take a different route.
But without having my own opportunity to meet and speak with him, I wouldn’t give an indication either way of which route to take. I only asked that the club carefully consider biding its time in finding candidates from all available sources and then come to a careful conclusion of who the head coach should be.
That's not to say Mularkey was the root of all of Tennessee's problems. Despite having won just five (5) games in the last two years, Titans management was adamant that a full-scale rebuild and remodeling of the the organization was not something they were interested in.
It was also clear ownership wanted to stay the course inside the halls of the complex. I was told, "We don’t want to blow up the building. This is a staff that works well together and avoids the internal politics and bickering that can and has brought down others in the past."
While Sundquist expressed a willingness to evaluate before tearing things down to the studs, he recognized the myriad problems within the organization.
But certainly a team with four different head coaches, three ownership structures, two presidents and just one winning season over the past seven years would require a full and complete "physical" to find out what was really ailing it.
The past few seasons had been brutal on this franchise. In 2014, the Titans finished with their fifth-worst average point margin in their 56-year history. In 2015, they improved...to 12th-worst.
Tennessee’s offense hadn’t ranked at or above the midway mark in the NFL for scoring or total yards since ’09. The 2014 unit was third-worst ever in the history of the Titans/Oilers. The 2015 squad made small improvements, mostly due to the team drafting Mariota, but Tennessee remained one of the NFL's flattest offenses all year.
Despite what some thought to be improvements under Ray Horton's guidance on defense, the Titans remained abysmal on that side of the ball in 2015. They recorded the same number of sacks (39) and picked off one fewer pass (11) compared to the year prior. They surrendered 30 or more points in seven games.
As I was reading the article, I couldn't help but feel like the Titans were doomed. That's not to say that they made a mistake in failing to hire Ted Sundquist; we're not privy to how he performed versus the other candidates who sought the position. What does seem evident, however, is that the people in charge of the Titans don't think things are as terrible as the play on the field indicates.
The AFC South is rightfully currently considered one of the worst, if not the worst, division(s) in the NFL. Seeing how the Titans intend to continue to handle their business would lead one to believe they won't be doing much in the near future to change the perception of the division. As a fan of a team that faces the Titans twice each season, I applaud Tennessee's commitment to staying the course.
Titans fans, remain calm. All is well. Nothing to see here.