What Ken Whisenhunt Hire Means for Tennessee Titans

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 13, 2014

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The Tennessee Titans have been mired in mediocrity the past several years, too good to get a top-five pick, but not good enough to sniff the playoffs.

That was enough to spell the end for Mike Munchak, who was fired after three years at the helm.

The Titans wasted no time in filling the position, and while Tennessee didn't make a "splash" hire or take a big chance, in this case at least the "safe" call was the right one.

The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport was among the first to report the Titans had settled on San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt as their next head coach.

It was a move that met with the approval of at least one former franchise great:

Whisenhunt, of course, is best known for his six-year stint as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, during which he led the team to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance in 2009.

Whisenhunt and the Redbirds also won the NFC West the following season, but an 18-30 record over his last three seasons in the desert led to his firing after the 2012 season.

Now, after one year coordinating Mike McCoy's offense in San Diego, it's back to the big chair for the 51-year-old.

It may not be a "sexy" hire, but there are reasons the Titans moved quickly, and why Whisenhunt was so high on the wish list of the Detroit Lions, who were reportedly also very interested.

The first is his track record. Of the head coaching options available, Whisenhunt is easily the most experienced at the NFL level (at least among realistic candidates).

Ken Whisenhunt NFL Coaching Experience
1997-1998Baltimore RavensTE Coach
1999Cleveland BrownsTE Coach
2000New York JetsST Coach
2001-2003Pittsburgh SteelersTE Coach
2004-2006Pittsburgh SteelersOff. Coord.SB XL Champs
2007-2012Arizona CardinalsHead Coach45-51 RS, 4-2 PS
2013San Diego ChargersOff. Coord.Made Playoffs
Played in NFL from 1985-1992

Prior to joining the Cardinals, Whisenhunt spent three years running the offense in the Steel City, a stint that included Pittsburgh's win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. He's been coaching in the NFL since 1997, including stints with the Browns, Ravens and Jets.

More importantly, Whisenhunt has accomplished exactly what the Titans are looking to do, taking the Cardinals to 8-8 in his first season before nearly downing the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII the year after.

Whisenhunt has also shown an affinity for coaxing big years out of veteran quarterbacks. It was Whisenhunt who rolled the dice on Kurt Warner over Matt Leinart in 2008, and at least some of the credit for Philip Rivers' bounceback 2013 rests with him.

However, Whisenhunt was undone after the Cardinals failed to develop a successor to Warner, and it's at the quarterback position where Whisenhunt faces his greatest challenge in Tennessee.

After yet another up-and-down, injury-plagued season from Jake Locker, the jury is very much still out on the third-year pro heading into a contract season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick is, well, Ryan Fitzpatrick. As starting quarterbacks in the NFL go, Fitzpatrick is a very good 31-year-old backup.

Whether it's giving one last chance to Locker or the team using a draft pick on a QB, the Titans aren't going anywhere until they get better under center.

That isn't the only problem facing the Titans. For a team that's been perpetually stuck in "transition", there's still plenty of work to be done.

The all-but-certain departure of running back Chris Johnson creates a hole in the backfield of an offense that didn't rank in the top half of the NFL once during Munchak's tenure.

On the flip side, the Titans run defense, which hasn't ranked in the top half of the league either over the past three seasons, badly needs bolstering.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. There's talent on Tennessee's roster. It just hasn't shown up on the field with any consistency.

Whisenhunt can't fix all those problems instantly or by himself, but you can bet that he is being brought on board in the hopes of getting that Titans offense on track.

Ken Whisenhunt Before And After
Before O RankBefore RecordTeamAfter O RankAfter Record
*Made Playoffs

And that's what he's done in Arizona and San Diego. Say what you will about Whisenhunt, but both of those teams went from doormats to .500 or better in his first year.

For Titans fans, the "playoffs" are the games that lead up to the Super Bowl. It's OK if you don't remember them—the Titans haven't been there since 2008 and haven't won a playoff game since 2004.

Some will say that the Titans would have been better served with a bolder hire—an innovator from the college ranks or an up-and-coming coordinator.

Call it "The Harbaugh Effect" or maybe "The Kelly Factor."

However, at the end of the day it just isn't that often that a coaching candidate is available with experience that includes a Super Bowl appearance on his resume.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were wise to snatch one up when they hired Lovie Smith, and the Titans were just as wise to follow suit with Whisenhunt.




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