NFL Team Report - Tennessee Titans - INSIDE SLANT
The Tennessee Titans hired San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to become their head coach, the Titans announced Monday.
The Chargers were eliminated by the Denver Broncos in Sunday's playoff game, giving Whisenhunt the opportunity to accept offers elsewhere.
The Detroit Lions were the other team reportedly interested in Whisenhunt, and they had planned to send their team plane to San Diego to talk to Whisenhunt further, according to an ESPN report. But Whisenhunt asked the Lions to delay that meeting until he was finished with his business with the Chargers.
However, when the season was concluded, Whisenhunt became more deeply involved with the Titans and eventually reached an agreement.
"This is a big day for this franchise," said Titans president/CEO Tommy Smith in a statement released by the team. "Ken is a well-respected coach in this league and I am looking forward to seeing his vision become reality for this team. He has a history of building successful offenses and took Arizona to a Super Bowl as a head coach. We all share a common goal for this team and that is to build a consistent winner. I want to thank Ruston (general manager Ruston Webster) for his hard work in the process and the quality candidates that he brought in for interviews."
Whisenhunt, 51, has 17 seasons of NFL coaching experience, including six years as a head coach with the Arizona Cardinals from 2007 through 2012. He led the Cardinals to the Super Bowl following the 2008 season.
On Thursday, Whisenhunt was named the NFL's Assistant Coach of The Year by the Pro Football Writers of America for his work with the Chargers in 2013.
Whisenhunt helped resurrect the career of quarterback Kurt Warner in Arizona, and he played a major role in the strong bounce-back season quarterback Phillip Rivers had with the Chargers this year.
"I have a lot of respect for Ken as a coach and as an offensive mind," said Webster said in a statement. "The traits that stand out to me when identifying him as our next coach -- he is intelligent, has a track record with quality offenses and head coaching success. I really enjoyed our meeting on Friday night in San Diego and we share similar philosophies about the game. Additionally, we have several mutual colleagues that have spoken highly to me about Ken both as a coach and as a person. I am excited about Ken joining us and the future of the Titans."
--Whisenhunt named former San Diego Chargers tight ends coach Jason Michael as offensive coordinator on Friday (Jan. 17).
Whisenhunt was the Chargers' offensive coordinator during the 2013 season before the Titans hired him this week.
"Jason really impresses me with his knowledge of the run and pass game and he was a big part of putting together our plans last year in San Diego," Whisenhunt said on the Titans' website. "He is very familiar with the offensive system that we want to implement here, which includes bits and pieces from a number of offensive systems.
"He is intelligent and a good communicator. He was responsible for presenting a couple of game-plan packages to our offense each week and he was impressive."
Michael's previous NFL jobs were with the Oakland Raiders as quality control coach, the New York Jets as quality control, quarterbacks and tight ends coach, and the San Francisco 49ers as quarterbacks coach.
"This is a great situation," Michael said. "The opportunity to work with Whiz and follow him there to Tennessee is exciting both professionally and personally. In the one year working with Whiz, I learned a great deal and we worked really well together. His ability to create an offense that is built around the strengths of the players led to success for us in San Diego and it will be fun to come there and create an offense that is built around a new group of players.
"Nine years ago, this would have been the job I dreamed about -- with my wife from Knoxville and going to school in Bowling Green (Ky.) -- an opportunity to come home to be the offensive coordinator for the Titans."
--The Titans confirmed the hiring of Ray Horton as defensive coordinator on Monday (Jan. 20).
The move was reported during the weekend. Horton spent last season with the Cleveland Browns in the same position.
The 53-year-old Horton previously was the defensive coordinator under new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona during Whisenhunt's final two seasons as the Cardinals' head coach in 2011 and 2012.
"Scheme-wise, one of the most impressive things about Ray is his flexibility," Whisenhunt said in a statement. "He has the ability to go between a 4-3 and 3-4 and put our players in the best position to succeed. It has been evident by what he's done and where his defenses have ranked in the league over the last few years."
Under Horton last season, the Browns were ninth in the NFL in yards allowed per game (332.4) after the defense ranked 23rd the year before he arrived in Cleveland.
"I am excited about this opportunity, to be reunited with coach Whisenhunt and to be a piece of the puzzle to move this team forward," Horton said, according to The Tennessean. "I have a great deal of respect for Whiz, as someone who took a franchise (Cardinals) that had never been to the Super Bowl, he was able to take them to one.
"I was with him in Pittsburgh as well and he is a leader, a great play-caller and has a love for the game. As for our defensive system, I have said from day one that I don't coach a particular alignment. I coach men who want to get after it, and we will play physical and fundamentally sound. We will do whatever suits the men that I coach and whatever the Tennessee Titans can do best."
Coming with Horton from Cleveland is Louie Cioffi, who will coach the secondary.
--As the Tennessee Titans head into the offseason after hiring Ken Whisenhunt to replace Mike Munchak as head coach, they are also are looking for an identity.
Titans general manager Ruston Webster said as much when he addressed Munchak's dismissal and propelled the Titans into the search for a new head coach.
"I think in the end we have to be on the same page But yeah, you can be sold on an identity and a philosophy. I think for me, it's important that whatever that identity or philosophy is that we're all on board and that we move forward finding players that fit exactly that," Webster said.
That identity was something that never really came to fruition with the Titans in 2013. Tennessee began the season wanting to be a run-first and play-action team on offense with an aggressive defense. It began that way as the Titans strong-armed the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener and marched out to a 3-1 record before quarterback Jake Locker suffered a hip injury. Locker came back after two games, but suffered a foot injury that cost him the remainder of the season and leaves plenty of questions as to not only the future of the quarterback, but also the franchise, which finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Without Locker, the Titans sort of changed their dynamic to fit the skill set of backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, using more shotgun and no-huddle and emphasizing a short passing game. The results were certainly less than thrilling, as Fitzpatrick guided the Titans to 3-6 record as a starter and his costly turnovers at critical times helped to kill off Tennessee's playoff chances and eventually Munchak as coach.
For Whisenhunt, there will be plenty of questions to answer beyond just how healthy or not Locker is and whether he can still become a solid NFL starter. There is the matter of what to do with Chris Johnson, the Titans running back who is owed $8 million and could find himself as a cap casualty due to the Titans not getting much bang for their buck since CJ signed a $53 million extension last offseason.
There were some bright spots on the offense as receiver Kendall Wright, who had 94 catches and 1,079 yards receiving. Tight end Delanie Walker, a free agent pickup from the 49ers, had 60 catches in his first year in Tennessee and provided a positive influence in the locker room as well. Justin Hunter showed big-play flashes as a rookie receiver.
The rebuilt offensive line, supposedly the strength of the team coming into the season, never jelled due to injuries and lineup changes, caused the Titans to shuffle and struggle far more than was expected in 2013.
On defense, the Titans were much improved over a year ago, when they allowed a franchise-worst 466 points. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey had a banner season with 10.5 sacks and cornerback Alterraun Verner made the Pro Bowl after picking off five passes.
Elsewhere, free-agent signee Bernard Pollard gave the Titans some of the intensity and attitude they had been lacking in years past. Linebackers Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers disappointed in their second and third seasons, respectively, but still have potential to be impact players in the right system.
What the Titans found overall in 2013 was that they had a handful of pieces in place, but not enough pieces to fit together a playoff run. In the end, it cost Munchak and his staff their jobs, and now Whisenhunt will have to sort through what is left on the Tennessee roster to try and build a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game in a decade back into a contender.
NFL Team Report - Tennessee Titans - NOTES, QUOTES
--Probably no Titans player will be more affected by the change of coaches than quarterback Jake Locker.
Locker was drafted by Mike Munchak in 2011 to be the team's franchise quarterback, and though he has shown flashes of that at times, injuries have stunted his progress and now Locker finds himself working for a second head coach and third offensive coordinator in four years in 2014. If Locker doesn't progress or stay healthy, the Titans could say goodbye after the season.
For now, Locker is optimistic that things will work out for him and the Titans.
In a text to TitanInsider.com, Locker said, "disappointed to see him go. He was the coach that drafted me and have a lot respect for him as a coach and a person. Wish him the best going forward. I know the front office will go out and find a great coach to take over."
For now, Locker still has the backing of GM Ruston Webster.
"I'm a fan of Jake's and would love to see him have success here," Webster said. "I think the important thing is that that coach has a plan for success and to move ahead and to build the team and to continue to build off what we already have here. One of the biggest things when you ask me about coaches is that they do have a plan moving forward."
After the addition of Whisenhint, Locker said he looks forward to working with him. Said Locker, "(I'm) excited about the hire and looking forward to working with coach Whisenhunt. He has always had very successful offenses and I look forward to learning from him,"
Asked about Locker in his first press conference, Whisenhunt said, "I just got finished with our (Chargers) season two days ago. It has been kind of a whirlwind. You know there is a lot of time that goes into that, especially when you get into the playoffs. I really haven't had a chance to study that. That is going to be a big thing over the next weeks and months, as far as evaluating our players and how they fit in. The one thing I will say is that I liked Jake coming out."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We want a team that is competitive and tough and when you show up to the stadium on Sunday, you show up expecting to win." -- GM Ruston Webster on what he wants to build with the Titans.
NFL Team Report - Tennessee Titans - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
According to various reports, new coach Ken Whisenhunt is retaining receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, running backs coach Sylvester Croom, defensive backs coach Steve Brown, special teams coach Nick Kaczor and assistant special teams coach Steve Hoffman, while deciding not to retain defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone.
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March:
--CB Alterraun Verner.
--WR Kenny Britt.
--S Bernard Pollard.
--DE Ropati Pitoitua.
--DT Antonio Johnson.
--WR Damian Williams.
--C Kevin Matthews.
--QB Rusty Smith.
--WR/KR Marc Mariani.
--RB/KR Leon Washington.
--C/G Chris Spencer.
--RB Jackie Battle.
--T Mike Otto.
--C/G Robert Turner.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Ryan Fitzpatrick. Backups -- Rusty Smith, Tyler Wilson. Injured reserve: Jake Locker
Even with the coaching change, the job figures to belong to Locker for at least one more season. A new coaching staff will determine whether Fitzpatrick stays for the final year of his two-year deal as the backup. Smith is a free agent, and Wilson was a developmental guy for Mike Munchak's staff. His fate figures to lie in the hands of whoever the new coach is. Don't rule out a draft pick or free agent signing here.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Chris Johnson RB, Quinn Johnson FB. Backups -- Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Leon Washington. Injured reserve: Collin Mooney FB.
CJ2K could be on his way out the door, unless the Titans decide to pay his $8 million base salary for 2014. If he is gone, the Titans will find someone to pair with Greene, who was effective late the year after it was too late to matter. Battle was a solid special teamer and hard runner, while Washington solidified the return game. Quinn Johnson started the year as the fullback, was injured, and Mooney took over, before he was hurt and the Titans re-signed Johnson.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Delanie Walker. Backups -- Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson.
Walker caught 60 passes after being picked up from the 49ers as a free agent. Stevens, who had shown versatility as a receiver and blocker, was relegated to blocking in 2013, while Thompson has shown little in the way of breaking out beyond a backup role.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Kendall Wright, Nate Washington. Backups -- Justin Hunter, Damian Williams, Michael Preston, Kenny Britt. Injured reserve -- Kevin Walters.
Wright is on the verge of becoming a star, catching 94 passes for 1,079 yards in his second year. Washington is steady, but might be more suited to be a third receiver at this state of his career. Hunter showed flashes as a rookie, while Preston has long-term potential.
Williams is a decent role player, but is a free agent, while Britt, a former first-round pick, is a lost cause who could use a fresh start.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Michael Roos, LG Andy Levitre, C Brian Schwenkie, RG Chance Warmack, RT David Stewart. Backups -- T Mike Otto, T Byron Stingily, C/G Chris Spencer, C Kevin Matthews. Injured reserve -- C Rob Turner.
This unit did not jell as it was supposed to. After spending big free agent money on Levitre and drafting Warmack and Schwenkie to start. Stewart's injuries were a big part, and he could be at the end of the line. Roos is steady, and should have a couple of more years left, but the Titans probably need a right tackle and someone to groom as a left tackle.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Derrick Morgan , LDT Sammie Hill, RDT Jurrell Casey, RDE Ropati Pitoitua. Backups -- DE Kamerion Wimbley, DT Mike Martin, DE Lavar Edwards, DT Antonio Johnson, DT Karl Klug.
Casey was the star here, posting 10.5 sacks in his third year as a pro. The Titans need to add a dynamic pass rusher to pair with him. Morgan has not live up to first-round billing, and neither has Wimbley as an expensive free agent. Hill was OK in the middle, but Johnson also fared well as a backup. Klug is a nice inside pass rusher who occasionally flashes.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Zach Brown, MLB Moise Fokou, SLB Akeem Ayers. Backups -- MLB Colin McCarthy, WLB Zaviar Gooden, SLB Patrick Bailey.
By the end of the season, the Titans were back to asking questions about this group. Brown seemed destined for stardom, then was benched in one game late in the year. Ayers seems miscast as a 4-3 linebacker, while Fokou did not play as well after returning from a knee injury. McCarthy, a former starter and team captain, was relegated to a cameo role. Gooden appears to have a future if he can stay healthy. Bailey is a special teams standout.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Jason McCourty, RCB Alterraun Verner, SS Bernard Pollard, FS Michael Griffin. Backups -- CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, S George Wilson, CB Micah Pellerin, S Damion Stafford, CB Khalid Wooten. Injured reserve -- CB Tommie Campbell, CB Coty Sensabaugh.
McCourty and Verner were solid at the cornerback spots, while Pollard gave the group some much-needed attitude. Griffin played better than a year ago when many were questioning the Titans' judgment in giving him a contract extension. Sensabaugh did well as the nickelback, but landed on IR with a foot injury, giving Wreh-Wilson a shot at that role. Wilson was a solid role player.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Rob Bironas, P Brett Kern, KOR/PR Leon Washington, LS Beau Brinkley. Injured reserve--KOR/PR Marc Mariani.
Bironas was steady as usual, but make have lost a few yards off his range on long kicks. Kern had a decen year except for a pair of inexplicably dropped snaps. Washington solved a season-long problem in the return game.