KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It was cringeworthy to hear Mike Mularkey talk about the lack of support he has received from the Tennessee Titans organization following the biggest win in his head-coaching career. At a moment of celebration, Mularkey reflected on how four hours before, he thought he would be fired.
Saturday's win was the Titans' first playoff win since the 2003 season. Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry had monster days, showing their bright futures as heads of this franchise. Also, Tennessee's defense pitched a second-half shutout against Kansas City.
But we're talking about Mularkey's unhappiness with how the organization handled his job security. It's time for the Titans to decide to be in or out on Mularkey. Lukewarm ain't cutting it. A head coach shouldn't have his job hanging in the balance because he wins or loses a playoff game.
"I haven't had any support to say I was [safe]," Mularkey said Saturday. "I just assumed the worst."
It was a risky move for Mularkey to express his feelings, given that it could impact the relationship between him and general manager Jon Robinson. But good for Mularkey, he was painfully honest and showed a human side of a profession that often lacks it.
Reports of Mularkey's imminent demise began weighing on him and his family over the past few weeks. He spent several minutes before the Titans' win over the Chiefs taking pictures and soaking in the moment with his wife, Betsy. He likely wondered at that moment whether this could be his last opportunity to do so as an NFL head coach.
"I don't think it's fair to my family," Mularkey said after the Titans came back to beat the Chiefs 22-21 in his first playoff appearance as a head coach. "When it has an effect on my family, it has an effect on me. So it had a big effect on me."
But it wasn't his last chance because Mularkey's players fought for him, as they have all season. The Titans pulled off an upset over the Chiefs partially because of, and certainly not in spite of, Mularkey.
"We've had back-to-back winning seasons. We made the playoffs. We won a playoff game," said linebacker Brian Orakpo, who played in and won the first playoff game of his nine-year NFL career Saturday. "What more do people want? It's f---ing ridiculous."
Tight end Delanie Walker added: "I always had faith in Mike. When he was trying to get the job, I was the one that had his back. I wanted him here. I knew his philosophy. I knew what he was going to bring to this team, and you can see it."
Two things can be true: Mularkey's offense has underachieved and been too inflexible, given its talent. Also, Mularkey has done a good job as head coach of the Titans.
Sure, there might need to be staff changes to solve the puzzling regression of Mariota and the often stagnant nature of the Titans' offense. "Pretty" has rarely been a word used to describe this team. But if you play to win the game, Mularkey has done a pretty solid job, and that's what should matter.
Mularkey is 19-14 (including playoffs) as the Titans' full-time head coach since he took over in January 2016. The Titans were a combined 5-27 in the two seasons prior.
Mularkey will be entering the final year of his contract once Tennessee's season is over. He said a couple of weeks ago that he had no talks with the team about an extension. He spent just two years in his first head coach stop in Buffalo and just one season as the Jaguars head coach.
Decisions still have to be made. Any hot new assistants brought in to change the Titans' offense would want more security than a lame duck coach can provide. That would seem to indicate that the Titans have two choices: Give Mularkey an extension or fire him.
Either way, it shouldn't be a distraction anymore. Nobody likes their coffee lukewarm. The Titans need to choose hot or cold on Mularkey.