The Tennessee Titans report for the start of training camp Friday so each day this week the Nashville Post will look at a significant issue that faces them as they prepare for the 2014 season.
Today: The switch to head coach Ken Whisenhunt after three seasons under Mike Munchak.
• The issue: The franchise has never experienced a change as extreme as what has taken place since Munchak was fired and Whisenhunt was hired to replace him. While Munchak was his own man, a lot of the schemes were connected to, or exact replicas of the ones the team used during the Jeff Fisher era. With Whisenhunt, everything is new.
• Voice of experience: While the Titans’ current five-year playoff drought seems like an eternity, it pales in comparison to what Whisenhunt inherited when he became Arizona Cardinals head coach in 2007. That franchise had gone eight straight years without a playoff appearance and had been to the postseason just once in 24 years. He led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in his second season and back-to-back playoff appearances (2008 and 2009) for the first time since 1974-75.
• Object of affection: The Titans were one of three teams that reportedly interviewed Whisenhunt regarding coaching vacancies in the days prior to San Diego’s divisional playoff game at Denver. Cleveland and Detroit also talked to him, and the prevailing opinion was that the Lions were the best fit for him. That made his decision to accept Tennessee’s offer something of a shocker for most league observers.
The whole process was in stark contrast to the search for Fisher’s replacement. Few, if any, considered Munchak a potential head coach before late-owner Bud Adams asked him to interview for the job. Munchak, himself, probably had not considered the possibility of running a team until Adams brought it up.
• Dual threat: Another significant difference is that unlike Fisher or Munchak, who delegated to their coordinators, Whisenhunt will call the plays on offense during games. CEO Tommy Smith said that was a factor in the decision to offer the job to Whisenhunt.
That approach certainly can work. Jon Gruden with Tampa Bay, New Orleans’ Sean Payton and Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy all have won Super Bowls while doubling as head coach/play callers. Conversely, Bill Belichick at New England and Tom Coughlin with the New York Giants have won multiple Super Bowls without calling plays.
So there’s no right way to do it. It’s up to the players to make this method work.
• Statistically speaking: Even with his early success, Whisenhunt’s record as a head coach is not exactly awe-inspiring. He was 45-51 in six seasons with the Cardinals.
His offense ranked 11th or better in points and 14th or better in yards in the three years future Hall of Famer Kurt Warner was his starting quarterback. In the other three years his offense was 24th or worse in points and 19th or worse in yards, including dead last in 2012, which led the Cardinals to fire him.
Even at his best, Jake Locker does not look like a guy who is bound for Canton so the Titans have to hope that is not what is necessary to make Whisenhunt’s offense work.
• What to watch for: Under Munchak, the Titans were a team that too often allowed opponents to dictate what they did on offense and defense. Likewise, little that they did set up things for later in the game or the season.
Watch during preseason games to see if opposing offensive lines have trouble identifying pass rushers and whether opposing defenses have trouble matching up with someone in the pass pattern. If those things happen, then the changes to the schemes are taking hold and having the desire effect. If not, it could be another long season.
• Prediction: Although it might take time, Whisenhunt ultimately will be a significant upgrade from Munchak. He has shown he is comfortable in the role and is confident with all the things that require his attention, two things his predecessor never displayed.
The fact that Tennessee was 7-9 last season with a sub-par coach means that – barring injury – this team has a real chance to be one of this season’s bigger surprises.
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