Ken Whisenhunt's coaching career has taken a number of turns in recent years, but the latest twist takes him back to Nashville, right where his coaching career started. Nearly 20 years after he started out as an assistant at Vanderbilt, Whisenhunt is the new head coach of the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans hired Whisenhunt on Monday, beating out the Lions and others for one of the more sought-after candidates. For as dragged out and indecisive as the Titans' firing of Mike Munchak was, the hiring of Whisenhunt was just the opposite. The Chargers' season ended on Sunday and the Lions reportedly had a private plane waiting to bring Whisenhunt to Detroit on Monday. But the Titans swooped in before Detroit could act and landed the 17th head coach in franchise history.
Despite having "fired" on his resume, Whisenhunt was an attractive coaching candidate for a number of reasons. He had success as an offensive coordinator, both with Pittsburgh and San Diego. Philip Rivers had a career resurrection this season under Whisenhunt with he and running back Ryan Mathews both headed to the Pro Bowl. The Titans can only hope Whisenhunt will have a similar impact with Jake Locker and Chris Johnson next year, assuming both remain with the team.
Unlike a few other candidates, Whisenhunt also has NFL head coaching experience and success. He spent six seasons in Arizona, leading the Cardinals to two playoff appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals hadn't had a season better than 7-9 in eight seasons when Whisenhunt took over. He led them to 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6 records in his first three years. Arizona struggled to find a quarterback after Kurt Warner retired and Whisenhunt was fired after a 5-11 season in 2012. Had Arizona won the Peyton Manning sweepstakes in 2011, there is a good chance Whisenhunt would be coaching the Cardinals in the playoffs right now, instead of taking his third job in a little more than a year.
If Whisenhunt proves to be the right hire in Tennessee, as the majority of the Music City Miracles community believes, he'll likely need to solve the Titans' quarterback issues. Tennessee used the No. 8 pick in 2011 to draft Locker, but he's been injured and ineffective during his NFL career. He was more productive last season, but suffered a season-ending foot injury and was limited to seven games. Tennessee will have to make a decision soon on whether it will pick up the $13 million option in Locker's contract. The option is only guaranteed for injury, meaning 2014 could be a make-or-break year for Locker in Tennessee.
The Titans will also need to make a decision on Johnson's future. The running back is coming off a down year where he averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per attempt. He recently said he would prefer to leave Tennessee if he wasn't going to see an increased workload. Whisenhunt ran run-heavy offenses in San Diego and Pittsburgh, but the Cardinals ranked 25th or worse in the NFL in rushing attempts under Whisenhunt. Jimmy Morris of Music City Miracles wrote it's time for the Titans to move on from Johnson.
Before Whisenhunt begins making personnel decisions, he'll need to assemble a coaching staff. He doesn't have any ties to the former Titans coaches and will likely bring in a new staff with a few names have already beginning to surface. John McNulty could be a candidate for offensive coordinator, according to Ian Rapoport. McNulty coached under Whisenhunt with Arizona. Mike Silver of NFL Network reported Whisenhunt talked to some San Diego assistants about joining his staff if he got a job. There are other ties, including Russ Grimm who coached offensive line in Arizona and former Browns and Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Horton is regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. He joined the Browns after Whisenhunt was fired, but his status is in limbo with the Browns searching for a head coach. There will be at least one familiar face in Tennessee as wide receiver Nate Washington played the first two years of his career under Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh.
When Whisenhunt was fired in Arizona, he weighed his options before heading to San Diego. He likely knew he'd be a hot coaching candidate if he could resurrect Rivers' career. He did and he was. Now, he'll get a second chance at resurrecting his own career as a head coach.