Any lingering questions about whether or not new Ken Whisenhunt has hit the ground running in his first year as Tennessee Titans coach will be answered this summer when the team hosts its annual Back to Football 5K.
“I am going to attempt to [run] that, yes,” Whisenhunt said Tuesday.
After several weeks on the job NFL rules still prohibit him from having any serious football related discussions with his players, conducting any workouts or any of the more traditional duties of his job outside of meetings with his assistants.
Whisenhunt has not been barricaded in his office, though.
Tuesday he was the star attraction at the team’s season ticket member ‘appreciation bash,’ where he spoke to a lunch crowd of approximately 1,800 and a dinner crowd of 2,800. The event featured franchise ownership and general manager Ruston Webster at the lunch and defensive coordinator Ray Horton at the dinner.
He has made it clear that he intends to serve as an ambassador to the fans between now and the start of the season, including his participation in the 5K.
“He’s doing a fantastic job to date,” Titans executive vice president Don MacLachlan said. “To offer his time to us – twice – knowing that the [scouting] combine gets started [Wednesday at Indianapolis] … he’s committed. He’s committed to the fans. He’s said he wants to make sure that he engages with the fans and gives our fans a product that they’re very, very proud of and that the players get more engaged.”
Whisenhunt’s predecessor, Mike Munchak, took a much more traditional view of his job and at time it seemed as if his goal was operate as if it was the 1950s.
He wanted to coach football absent all of the ancillary aspects of the job. Noble, though that might have been, it was not practical. Nor was it effective.
The Titans failed to make the playoffs in three years under Munchak and while the team’s sellout streak at LP Field remained intact, attendance at games late last season was as low as it’s ever been.
“I want [the fans] to be excited about what we’re going to put on the field this year,” Whisenhunt said. “I think it’s important that we represent our fans the right way. I’ve seen this city get behind this football team. I’ve played here as an opponent and I know what a tough place it is to play when that’s the case. That’s what I want. Homefield advantage is something you can use in this league to win games.”
Indications are that his early efforts to reenergize the fan base have been successful.
“Anytime there’s something new, something fresh, that generates excitement,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was at Tuesday’s dinner, said. “… There’s a lot of excitement you could just feel. I think [Whisenhunt] has generated a lot of it in terms of his track record and some of the things he’s been able to do.”
More than six months remain before his first opportunity to win a game. Heck, the 2014 schedule has yet to be released.
Until then, though, he is going to continue to try to win over – or win back – the fans by being in front of them or alongside them when he can.
“Anytime that you can involve the fans and they’re a part of what you’re doing you can create that atmosphere that ‘We’re in this thing together,’” Whisenhunt said. “And that’s an important part of it.”
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