NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk had been thinking of making a coaching change for weeks, and team President Steve Underwood said they caught Mike Mularkey a bit off-guard Tuesday morning asking him to take over as interim head coach.
The Titans fired Ken Whisenhunt after a 3-20 tenure with the franchise.
"When you're not winning and you can't win, that's when change happens in the NFL," Underwood said.
Underwood said he and general manager Ruston Webster told Whisenhunt they were making a change on Tuesday morning. The president said promoting Mularkey was based on his experience as an offensive coordinator.
Dick LeBeau is the other former head coach on the coaching staff, but he's in charge of a defense currently fifth in the NFL in yards allowed.
Whisenhunt's latest loss came Sunday in Houston, where this franchise was founded and with Strunk in the stadium. That apparently the last straw for Strunk, who was not at Tuesday's press conference. She took over as controlling owner in March replacing Tommy Smith who hired Whisenhunt in January 2014.
"We have expected more progress on the field, and I felt it was time to move in a different direction," Strunk said in a statement. "I would like to thank Ken for his efforts with our team, as he worked very hard to try to move us forward."
Mularkey said he hopes to earn this job after a nine-game audition. Offensive coordinator Jason Michael will take over calling plays, a job Whisenhunt previously handled.
"Our roster right now is the roster that's going to get us out of the hole we're in," Mularkey said.
The Titans went 2-14 in Whisenhunt's debut season. It was their worst record since 1994, after going 7-9 in 2013 under Mike Munchak. Tennessee drafted Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota with the No. 2 pick overall in the draft, then named him the starter.
They won their opener 42-14 in Tampa Bay, then lost six straight for the longest skid in the NFL. Three of the losses were by a combined six points, and Whisenhunt was just 1-11 at home.
That was the 16th loss in 17 games for Tennessee, and the Titans also have lost their last 12 games against AFC opponents for the longest such skid by a team inside its conference in the NFL. It's the worst skid since this team left Houston for Tennessee in 1997 and ranks among the worst stretches in franchise history.
Whisenhunt's .130 winning percentage also ranks behind only Leeman Bennett with Tampa Bay and Rich Kotite with the New York Jets (4-28, .125) for the worst NFL coaching record since 1970, according to STATS. Whisenhunt tied with Jim Ringo who went 3-20 with Buffalo.
The coach thanked the Titans for the opportunity and his coaches and players for their hard work.
"I am sorry we weren't able to get it done in our time here," Whisenhunt said in a statement issued through the Titans.
Titans cornerback Perrish Cox, who missed the last two games to an injured hamstring, called the move frustrating on Twitter.
"For anyone who wants to kno, no i am NOT happy with wiz gone, he was a good coach, he wznt the prob and we all know it!!," Cox wrote.
Safety Michael Griffin, the longest-tenured player on the roster, wrote in a text to The Associated Press that anyone hates someone getting fired, but everyone knows this is a business.
"I will say I have a lot of respect for coach Whiz and I wish him the best," Griffin wrote.
The Titans have started four rookies on offense this season, including Mariota who has missed the last two games with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Tennessee currently ranks next to last in the NFL, averaging 17.9 points per game.
Mularkey arrived in Tennessee with Whisenhunt as tight ends coach and was promoted to assistant head coach this offseason. He has been a head coach with the Buffalo Bills in 2004-05 and in 2012 with Jacksonville and played nine years in the NFL with Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Mularkey also has been an offensive coordinator with Pittsburgh, Miami and Atlanta.
The Falcons had a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher in three of Mularkey's four seasons between 2008 and 2011.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker