It is understandable that Mike Munchak’s final act with the Tennessee Titans has been widely viewed as one of loyalty.
After all, first the guy stuck around. He was with the franchise for more than 30 years as a player, an assistant coach and – for the last three years – a head coach.
Then he stuck up for his buddies. According to multiple reports Sunday, Munchak was given the opportunity to remain the Titans’ coach but was fired on Saturday because he refused to make expected changes to his coaching staff, which included his best friend Bruce Matthews (offensive line), college teammate Chet Parlavecchio (linebackers) and others.
Lost amid his longevity, however, is that loyalty as it pertained to assistant coaches was not part of Munchak’s approach. A day after he took the job he fired offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who was in his second stint with the franchise and who had stayed on the job despite the fact that he had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. After his first season he fired secondary coach Marcus Robertson, a great player for the Titans in his own right. Long-time special teams coach Alan Lowry, the architect of the Music City Miracle, was sent packing prior to this season.
In fact, despite his relatively short time on the job, Munchak fired more than half a dozen assistants and only three members of his staff had the same job for all three seasons.
More likely, his stance was an act of petulance.
It has been a long-held belief in all professional sports that great players don’t make good coaches. Those who have to work every angle just to carve out any sort of playing career, guys like Jeff Fisher or Bill Cowher or Sean Payton, are the ones who most often develop the broad vision and manic drive to make it work on the sidelines.
Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, did nothing to dispel that notion. In fact, his tenure only illuminated the issue.
No doubt he worked hard during his playing days. That’s how he ended up at one of college football’s premier programs, Penn State, became a first-round draft pick and eventually was enshrined in Canton.
Quite simply, though, things always worked out well for him. That makes it highly unlikely anyone ever told him his approach was wrong.
It makes sense, therefore, that he figured things would be no different for him as a head coach.
Make a plan. Stick to the plan. Things turn out well – really well – in the end. Simple as that.
That’s not how it worked in this case.
He definitely had a plan for his third season. He convinced management and ownership to spend more than $100 million on free agents and to let him overhaul his coaching staff once again. He talked repeatedly throughout the season and again on Monday, the day after the season, that the staff finally was structured as he wanted and the roster was populated with the types of players he wanted.
The result was seven wins, no playoffs (again) and the impression among his superiors that his staff was sub-standard.
He was told to make a new plan. Either he did not want to do so or he did not know how to do so but it almost assuredly was something he did not want to hear.
His defiance left CEO Tommy Smith and general manager with only one thing to say. You’re fired.