The Tennessee Titans have reportedly found their new head coach, hiring current San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt was one of four current coordinators the Titans interviewed last week, along with Jim Caldwell, Jay Gruden (since hired by the Redskins), and Mike Zimmer. President/CEO Tommy Smith was apparently sold on Whisenhunt, who was widely considered a strong candidate and probably the favorite for the Detroit Lions job.
Whisenhunt (and head coach Mike McCoy, the proper division of credit seems to be uncertain) did a phenomenal job in adapting and improving San Diego's offense in 2013, switching away from Norv Turner's deep-oriented attack to a versatile run game behind some different backs in Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead and a much shorter passing game, in the process resurrecting what looked like the fastly-fading career of Phlip Rivers. This is the second time Whisenhunt has been a head coach-he was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2007 until 2012. He won NFC West titles in 2008 and 2009, but struggled to find anything resembling an answer at quarterback once Kurt Warner retired. The nadir came in 2012, when the Cardinals went 5-11 with a top-6 defense (by Football Outsiders numbers) thanks to rookie Rusty Smith-level quarterback play from Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, and John Skelton. Whisenhunt earned the Arizona job on the basis of his work as offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he helped develop Ben Roethlisberger and won a Super Bowl in 2005.
Now that the Titans have Whisenhunt in the fold, my attention turns to what he wants on both sides of the ball. On offense, his Pittsburgh background was largely man-based run schemes complemented by a run-heavy passing attack. That's what he ran (or tried to) for much of his Arizona tenure. That's not quite what San Diego did this past season, as I indicated, thus some of my doubts about how much credit Whisenhunt gets for that. The other obvious question on offense is what Whisenhunt thinks of Jake Locker, and whether the Titans may be looking for a new starting quarterback. I am certain that question will come up at tomorrow's press conference at St. Thomas Sports Park, and we'll get a better answer then. My fear is that Whisenhunt was hired in large part because he said he could work with Locker, a quarterback I believe Ruston Webster believes in, but we will see.
On defense, Whisenhunt was reportedly interested in hiring Ray Horton, the very well-respected coordinator of his in Arizona responsible for that strong performance in 2012 but who had a less successful year this past season in Cleveland. That would be an interesting fit for the Titans, since Horton is a 3-4 guy and the Titans don't really have any defensive linemen under contract for 2014 that fit more of the traditional 3-4. Once again, this is a subject we should know more about after tomorrow's press conference.
My initial reaction to the hire is a pretty guarded one. It might be good, it might not. It certainly doesn't thrill me, but hardly any would have. It's certainly better than a Jim Caldwell hire. Whisenhunt has actually watched a passing drill before, and he's minimally qualified. That's an upgrade on the previous head coach hire. So is having a head coach in place before the Senior Bowl. Right now, though, I want to find out what Whisenhunt thinks about the offense, the defense, and the plan going forward, whether that's going all-in again in 2014 or building for the future.
Im also pretty stoked about this. A bonafide head coach with some specialties that should propel the team forward into a whole new era.
I think this is a very good hire for the Titans. I have a few concerns about his last two years in Arizona, but I think he probably learned from that QB debacle after Warner retired and I believe he will be a better head coach for it.
A few things stand-out for me with respect to the Whisenhunt hire. First, he has had enormous success with most of QBs he's coached. He turned Roethlisberger into a Super Bowl champ. He resurrected the career of Kurt Warren at a time when almost everyone thought he was finished as a starting QB in the league. He also had to do that while fighting off the urge to play the first round pick Matt Leinhart, which is something I assume management for the Cardinals was trying to jam down his throat. And he restored Rivers to prominence, after two consecutive seasons where it looked like he had lost his mojo. His ability to get the most out of these three QBs is impressive and makes me think that he will be able to find success in Tennessee. Second, I don't think the Titans could wait until after the Super Bowl to hire a HC. A decision to wait and hire Quinn would have delayed everything for Tennessee and would have limited the Titans options with respect to the Offensive Coordinator hire. Third, Whisenhunt knows a lot of football people and, for that reason, he likely has the ability to attract some great people to work on his staff.
All that said, I am optimistic about the decision to hire Whisenhunt.