Often, NFL coaching changes are more a reflection of the caliber of the team than the performance of the man who is fired.
Teams make a change at the top as the first step in what they hope will be a total transformation of the organization.
That is not the case with the Tennessee Titans. Many of the same players who went 7-9 last season under Mike Munchak reported Friday and were set to take the field Saturday under new coach Ken Whisenhunt.
The Titans were one of seven NFL teams that changed coaches after last season. Many of them also changed their rosters significantly. Barring injury, as many as four of the seven could have a new starting quarterback in Week 1. Minnesota and Cleveland each had two first-round draft picks.
Tennessee, though, did not feel compelled to perform a major roster overhaul, and its first-round selection, tackle Taylor Lewan, might spend his entire rookie season as a backup. The roster includes seven players added through free agency and six more from the draft. The 13 notable newcomers are fewest among the franchises with new coaches.
“There’s no reason to say we’re this or that right now,” Whisenhunt said. “We haven’t even had a padded practice. I like the players that we have on this team.
“The only thing I can speak to that on is when we came here in the third game of last season when I was with San Diego and played this team I thought it was a pretty good football team. That impression has not changed from my vantage point.”
SEASON OF CHANGE
A look at the number of notable newcomers to the seven NFL teams that changed head coaches:
Free agents 11, draft picks 10. Total: 21
Free agents 14, draft picks 6. Total: 20
Free agents 12, draft picks 8. Total: 20
Free agents 11, draft picks 6. Total: 17
Free agents 9, draft picks 8. Total: 17
Free agents 6, draft picks 10. Total: 16
Free agents 7, draft picks 6. Total: 13
In the Titans’ case, it’s not just the smaller number of new players on the roster.
Among the free agent additions, only free agent linebacker Wesley Woodyard and tackle Michael Oher enter training camp as clear-cut starters. Oher replaced David Stewart, whose career ended, and Woodyard was added to play inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, a spot that did not exist last season.
Linebacker Shaun Phillips and running back Dexter McCluster will be prominent, albeit situational players. Phillips was signed as a pass rush specialist and McCluster was brought in to create match up problems but will not be an every-down back.
Running back Bishop Sankey, the second-round draft pick, is the only rookie who currently figures prominently into the offense or defense.
By comparison, the Titans signed more than 20 free agents in 2013. That group included guard Andy Levitre, tight end Delanie Walker, defensive tackle Sammie Hill, safety Bernard Pollard, defensive end Ropati Pitoatua and linebacker Moise Foukou – all starters when the season opened. The draft yielded two other starters, guard Chance Warmack and center Brian Schwenke.
If all 13 of this year’s newcomers make it to the start of the regular season, that still accounts for nearly 25 percent of the 53-man roster, which is a good chunk. It’s just not nearly as big a change as is taking place other places or what Whisenhunt faced in 2007 when he became head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, a franchise that had not won more than six games in any of the previous five seasons.
“I’m hoping that it’s going to be hard to get to 53,” Whisenhunt said. “That, to me, is a sign of a team you have a chance with. When I first went into Arizona, it wasn’t as hard to get to 53 as it was in ’09 after we had gone to the Super Bowl.
“…Really, the only thing that matters is what players in this room feel like. I think they’re pretty confident that we have a good season if we have a good camp.”