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Former NFL coach Mike Mularkey reveals Tennessee Titans conducted sham interview for Rooney Rule

Matt Johnson
Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

As the Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL gains momentum with two coaches joining his motion, former NFL coach Mike Mularkey might have provided a first-hand account that support Flores’ claims against the NFL and its teams.

Many minority coaches have felt for years that NFL teams conducted interviews with them to satisfy the Rooney Rule, all while already having their next head coach already picked out. Flores accused the Denver Broncos of staging a sham in-person interview with him in 2019.

He also cited texts from Bill Belichick from this offseason when the New England Patriots’ coach congratulated Flores on being chosen as the New York Giants’ head coach. However, the text was meant for Brian Daboll and Flores had an upcoming coaching interview with the Giants.

On Thursday, former Arizona Cardinals coach Steve Wilks and veteran assistant coach Ray Horton joined the motion against the NFL.

Related: 2022 NFL Power Rankings – Outlook for all 32 teams entering summer

Now, a 2020 interview Mularkey had on the Steelers Realm podcast indicates the Tennessee Titans held a sham head-coaching interview to satisfy the Rooney Rule and he went along with it in 2016.

“I’ve always prided myself on doing the right thing in this business and I can’t say that’s true about everybody in this business. It’s a very cutthroat business and a lot of guys will tell you that. … I allowed myself at one point when I was in Tennessee to get caught up in something I regret it and I still regret it. But the ownership there, Amy Adams Strunk and her family, came in and told me I was going be the head coach in 2016 before they went through the Rooney Rule. And so, I sat there knowing I was the head coach in ’16 as they went through this fake hiring process. Knowing a lot of the coaches they were interviewing, knowing how much they prepared to go through those interviews, knowing that everything they could do and they had no chance of getting that job. Actually, the GM, Jon Robinson, he was in on the interview with me. He had no idea why he was interviewing meā€”that I had the job already. I regret. I’m sorry I did that. It was not the way to go about it.”

Former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey on team conducting sham head-coaching interview to satisfy Rooney Rule

Mularkey joined the Titans’ organization as tight ends coach in 2014, serving in the role for two seasons. After Tennessee fired Ken Whisenhunt in the middle of the 2015 season, Mularkey took over on an interim basis.

Mularkey’s accusation of what transpired in 2016 would be exactly the kind of example Flores, Wilks and Horton would point towards as proof that many teams don’t seriously consider minority candidates. It would also indicate a serious violation of why the Rooney Rule was created.

  • Mike Mularkey record: 36-53

Tennessee Titans respond to Mike Mularkey’s allegations

The Titans responded to Mularkey’s resurfaced comments in a statement released on Thursday.

“Our 2016 head coach search was an open and competitive process during which we conducted in-person interviews with four candidates and followed all NFL rules. The organization was undecided on its next head coach during the process and made its final decision after consideration of all four candidates following the completion of the interviews.”

Tennessee Titans statement denying allegations made by former head coach Mike Mularkey

When reached for comment by ESPN, Mularkey said “I believe you have the truth and what you need.”

Mularkey went 20-21 in three seasons with the Titans and never served as a head coach again after being dismissed following the 2017 season. He coached tight ends for the Atlanta Falcons in 2019 but hasn’t returned to coaching since.

While the Tennessee Titans, just like the Broncos and Giants, have denied conducting sham interviews with minority coaches, the accusations against each organization are alarming. Blach coaches expressed frustration behind the scenes about numerous NFL teams interviewing them to satisfy the Rooney Rule, checking a box while already knowing what coach they would hire.

The NFL hired former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to defend itself against the growing suit. While the league has pushed back against some of the claims, commissioner Roger Goodell and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones also acknowledged the NFL’s hiring process needs to be fixed.

While the NFL has settled its legal matters in the past (Colin Kaepernick, St. Louis), there is a belief that Flores intends to follow through on his suit.