Offseason thoughts . . .
Just like that, there is a glimmer of hope that Hue Jackson won’t construct the Browns’ offense and/or call plays in the upcoming season.
It’s all because Mike Mularkey, a well-traveled former offensive coordinator/head coach, has become available, courtesy of some interesting decisions by the Tennessee Titans.
Mularkey was hanging by a slender thread as the Titans’ head coach as the 2017 season wound down. His job, it was reported, hinged on whether the Titans made the playoffs. They did on the last Sunday of the season. A reprieve.
Then it was reported he was gone if the Titans lost the wild-card game. They didn’t, knocking off Kansas City, 22-21, their first playoff victory since 2008. Soon after, word filtered down that the club wanted to lock up Mularkey for five seasons as a reward.
Then came a 35-10 thrashing by New England in the division round and all of a sudden, that five-year pact disappeared. So did Mularkey, who reportedly mutually agreed with the team that it was time to leave.
And now, again reportedly, he is in the Browns’ crosshairs for the ostensibly vacant job of offensive coordinator and, presumably, play caller. Ostensibly because Jackson seems reluctant to give up the gig and presumably for the same reason.
Mularkey checks all the boxes for the job and would be a strong addition to the almost-dead Cleveland offense of the last two seasons. That, of course, is assuming he doesn't hold out for the head coaching vacancy in Arizona.
He has authored offensive playbooks for Pittsburgh (under Bill Cowher), Miami (under Nick Saban), Atlanta (under Mike Smith) and for half a season in Tennessee before taking over midseason in 2015 for the fired Ken Whisenhunt.
The Steelers were 23-8-1 in his first two seasons before he departed to take the head-coaching job in Buffalo (succeeding current Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams) following a 6-10 campaign with Pittsburgh.
His innovative and trick-filled offense in Pittsburgh featured versatile players like Antwaan Randle El and Hines Ward, a couple of collegiate quarterbacks who excelled as wide receivers in the National Football League, It earned him the nickname Inspector Gadget.
Mularkey was quarterback Matt Ryan’s first coordinator with the Falcons, who were 43-21 in his four seasons and earned him another crack at head coaching in Jacksonville. The Jaguars were 2-14 in 2012, his lone season in north Florida.
If Jackson is serious about giving up all aspects of the offense, Mularkey would be the perfect choice. He’s been around the NFL long enough to have built up a solid résumé that has featured success wherever he has coordinated an offense.
Even though head coach picks his coaching staff, there has to be at least some input and influence by John Dorsey and owner Jimmy Haslam III, to whom Jackson and the new GM report.
Late last month, Jackson rationalized handling the dual jobs the first two seasons as the Browns’ head coach, saying, “I didn’t think it was fair to give anybody that (OC) title and not have a football team that was worthy of that guy to be the leader of it when I didn’t think it was where it needed to be.”
Now that Dorsey is on board and the Browns will be much more representative than they have been the last half dozen seasons from a talent standpoint, that excuse, flimsy as it was, no longer holds weight.
If Mularkey is not at least vetted, the notion here that Jackson’s search for an offensive boss is a charade becomes even more evident.
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He won’t say it publicly, but Dorsey has to still be agonizing privately over being handcuffed in selecting his own head coach. Six teams initially created vacancies by firing their coaches with the Titans making it seven a couple of days ago.
Chicago (Matt Nagy) and Oakland (Jon Gruden) have filled theirs with Detroit (Matt Patricia), Indianapolis (Josh McDaniels) and New York Giants (ex-Browns head coach Pat Shurmur) set after their respective current teams complete their seasons.
There is a coach out there, however, who has received little or no mention this season for a head-coaching job. He is not as high profile as the others, but Dorsey knows all about him.
It’s strictly a guess, a hunch, but for some reason, don’t go to sleep on Dave Toub, special teams coordinator for the last five seasons in Kansas City and eight seasons before that with Chicago, achieving success at both stops.
The Browns now have an opening on the coaching staff after Chris Tabor, who has coached the Browns’ special teams the last seven seasons, took his talents to Chicago a few days ago.
If Dorsey believes Toub, who has no head coaching experience, is ready to make the leap, one way to get him to Cleveland to replace Tabor without it being a sideways move would be to name him special teams coordinator/assistant head coach.
That way, when – not if – Jackson self destructs, however far into the 2018 season he makes it, Dorsey can elevate Toub to the top spot, at least on an interim basis and have his man in place.
Of course that’s wishful thinking, pie in the sky, speculation based mostly on a guess. At this point, though, the worst I can be is wrong.