After Jeff Fischer's 16th year as head coach, Bud Adams decided to vacate his position in favor of hiring Mike Munchak. Munchak is a hall of fame offensive guard that played for the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) for twelve seasons, including nine Pro Bowl selections and ten first- and second-team All-Pro selections.
Following his career as a player, Munchak became an offensive assistant for two seasons before working as an offensive line coach for fourteen years. He has spent his entire professional career with the organization, and is widely considered one of the best teachers in the league. Since the announcement was made that Munchak would be the new head coach, many players and coaches have praised him ubiquitously as one of the finest football minds and best businessmen working in the League.
Since taking the position, Adams made it known that Munchak has leeway to get who he feels will fit the new regime as it goes into next season and beyond. Munchak responded by releasing offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger and several assistants, with signs that he is considering more personnel movements. For all intents and purposes, he appears to have the whole support of the organization behind him.
But it can't be all flowers and sunshine, can it? Mike Munchak enters his job as one of the anomalies, having never been an offensive coordinator or head coach at any professional or collegiate level prior to the promotion. This move immediately springs to mind one name — Jim Zorn.
Zorn was a so-so quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks during the late '70s and early '80s, known for his ability to scramble and for being left-handed. Following his playing career, he was a collegiate and professional quarterback coach. He was successful in helping Matt Hasselback blossom into one of Seattle's best quarterbacks in history until 2008, when the Washington Redskins hired him to be their offensive coordinator. It was only one month until Dan Snyder promoted him to the head coaching position in a widely criticized move.
His first season as head coach found the Redskins with an 8-8 record, but landed them 4th in the NFC East. His second season wasn't even half-finished before Vinny Cerrato (then the Redskins general manager) relieved him of his play-calling duties in favor of Sherman Lewis. After again finishing in the bottom of the NFC East with a 4-12 record, Zorn and Cerrato were released.
Zorn was never allowed a chance to grow into his position, and wasn't given any say regarding the staff that worked around him. This recipe for disaster coupled with "win now" expectations led to Zorn's quick fall from grace and return to being a quarterback coach.
While it's true that Munchak is being given more control over his situation, it doesn't bode well to see such a recent example of a position coach jumping into an executive position and failing.
The jump from a teaching oriented role into a management oriented role can be one of the largest reasons behind why many head coaches fail. Going from the X's and O's fundamental guy to the motivator and the disciplinarian is the main catalyst to the fall of guys like Wade Phillips, Brad Childress, et al. Can Munchak make the leap?
Perhaps the most damning correlation that can be made to Munchak is that of Andy Reid. Reid began his professional coaching career in Green Bay as the offensive line coach after being an offensive line coach for four colleges over nine years. The NFL world was buzzing over the quality of Andy Reid's coaching credentials, and the Philadelphia Eagles pulled the trigger on bringing him on as head coach for the 1999 season.
Since then, Reid's Eagles have been to five NFC Championships and one Super Bowl in 12 seasons. He has only failed to make the playoffs three times, and is considered to be one of the best coaches never to win a Super Bowl. The problem? He's also considered not good enough, a supreme choke artist, and one of the most over-rated coaches in history.
While the thought of Munchak coming from such a similar background as Reid and going on to have such an illustrious career may be tempting, we must remember that the Titans/Oilers have never won a Super Bowl, a key point to take note of in the coming seasons.
The only beneficial correlation that I can make to Munchak is John Madden. Madden began his coaching career in 1960 at the collegiate level with small teams, and joined the Oakland Raiders franchise in '67 as a linebackers coach. Two years later, Al Davis made Madden the youngest head coach in NFL history.
Through ten seasons with the Raiders, Madden failed to make the playoffs only twice, but only qualified for the Super Bowl once — the Raiders won in convincing fashion over the Vikings. He retired two years later and became one of the most decorated color commentators of all time.
Without a Super Bowl, would Madden have been remembered as the illustrious head coach that people see him as today? Probably not. He would be remembered in the same vein as Reid is today; as a decent playoff coach but unable to win the big one.
The history of untested head coaches in the NFL isn't very spectacular, and Munchak joins a line of coaches that vary widely in successes. Almost all of the greatest coaches in NFL history have extensive coordinating history prior to their jobs as head coach, and the story of those few coaches that haven't is bittersweet to say the least.
Will Munchak follow in the vein of Jim Zorn, and fail calamitously? Will he follow along the path of Andy Reid, to be good but not great? Will he bring a Super Bowl to the franchise and defy the odds?
I urge you, Tennessee fans, be excited, but don't place too many burdens upon your new leader. It may start out rocky, and it may be rough going. The precedent is certainly not paved in gold for coaches in his position and from his background, but as you no doubt know Mike Munchak is a special kind of player, and a special kind of coach. I wish him the best, but I would caution all of you to reserve a little bit in what you expect.
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