After the Philadelphia Eagles fired Chip Kelly, there was speculation that the Tennessee Titans would hire him. After all, hiring Kelly would reunite him with Marcus Mariota and give him a mobile quarterback to run his up-tempo offense.
In the end, though, Kelly signed with the San Francisco 49ers.
“It was what it was,” Mariota said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Coach Kelly, we had a great time at Oregon. Our connection there was successful, but moving forward with the Titans, I think Coach (Mike) Mularkey was the best fit.”
Mariota said he did not talk to Kelly about becoming the Titans’ head coach – not even before Mularkey was elevated from the interim coach to the head coach.
“Not at all,” Mariota said. “No, and part of that is he’s such a busy man. He had things going for him. Throughout the year, he had texted me here and there just congratulating me or (telling me to) keep your head up. From that standpoint, I think Coach Kelly – even with a lot of the Oregon players – has developed a connection. We wish him well.”
Mariota had a solid rookie season in which he completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,818 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 12 games. He also rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns and even had a receiving touchdown.
Nevertheless, the Titans went 3-13 and fired Ken Whisenhunt following a 1-6 start. Whisenhunt went 3-20 during his Tennessee tenure.
“It stung pretty hard, but we (had) to move forward,” Mariota said. “That’s kind of part of it. You understand that it’s a business and it’s performance-driven. Unfortunately, we weren’t getting things done. Coach Whisenhunt was one of the guys I really kind of connected with and somebody that I was very thankful for giving me that opportunity. But we’re excited to have Coach (Mike) Mularkey and we look forward to next season.”
The Titans lost six games by six points or fewer, including four by three points or fewer.
“Last year was tough to kind of experience all that, but that’s going to build a foundation for what’s going on this year and the following year and for years to come,” Mariota said. “You can never get down about it. You just got to take the lumps and bruises as they come, dust yourself off and get ready for the next one.”
Mariota, like most rookies, and his ups and downs last season. He threw multiple touchdowns in six different games. He was also held without a passing touchdown in five games.
“It was a lot of fun week in and week out facing those challenges,” Mariota said. “We learned a lot through this year, and I’m looking forward to getting things going for next year.”
Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy at Oregon and led the Ducks to a national title game appearance last year, is known for his quiet, unassuming personality. Some organizations want more of an ongoing personality from their quarterbacks. Tennessee, however, is happy with Mariota as is.
So is Mariota.
“I’m fine with being myself,” he said. “I think the team kind of respects that. You’re not trying to put out a fake persona or anything like that. You’re just kind of who you are. I think the guys respect that.”