Ken Whisenhunt has been named the new head coach of the Tennessee Titans replacing Mike Munchak. Whisenhunt comes to the Titans from San Diego where he served as offensive coordinator this past season. Under Whisenhunt’s tutelage, QB Philip Rivers enjoyed his finest season statistically in leading the Chargers on a late winning streak to the Divisional round of the playoffs where they fell to the Broncos.
Before that, Whisenhunt was the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for six seasons, including the 2008 NFC championship and a berth in Super Bowl XLIII where the title was snatched from them by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in the final seconds. Whisenhunt was but 49-53 overall in Arizona, including 4-2 in the playoffs.
Vital to that success was QB Kurt Warner, whom Whisenhunt resurrected to former glory. Warner likely cemented Hall of Fame status under Whisenhunt passing for 83 touchdowns in three seasons. But once Warner retired after the Super Bowl appearance, the offense went downhill quickly as Whisenhunt was unable to find an adequate replacement.
Tennessee was clearly at a crossroads—either stay the course or shake things up by bringing in someone who could once and for all see whether or not Jake Locker can be a franchise quarterback. Given Whisenhunt’s track record in San Diego and Arizona (and also as coordinator in Pittsburgh with a young Roethlisberger winning Super Bowl XL), it is clear the organization believes Locker is the guy. If Whisenhunt cannot turn Locker into then guy, no one can. But that is the gamble with this hire.
Ken Whisenhunt had a non-descript career playing in parts of nine seasons for three teams catching a grand total of 62 passes in 74 games with six touchdowns as a tight end out of Georgia Tech. His coaching career began at Vanderbilt as ‘special teams coordinator’ and ‘tight ends coach’ under Rod Dowhower in 1995. He went to the NFL as TE coach in Baltimore in ’97 before moving on to stints in Cleveland and with the Jets prior to landing in Pittsburgh in 2001.
Questions about Whise-nhunt center on what kind of leader he is. Criticism seems to center around his tendency to become so focused on the offense that other areas get neglected. Defense was a problem consistently in Arizona, for example. Who fills out the coaching staff is critical. Will Gregg Williams be a part of the defense?
The Titans needed change, and someone to mold Jake Locker into being all he can be. Whisenhunt certainly figures to be the guy for that. But they also needed a coach who could be the unquestioned leader, a coach who could have a feel for the emotional side. Whisenhunt does not seem to be that guy—so what does that spell for Chris Johnson’s future?
Overall this is an upgrade, and he was the best candidate available. But can Ken Whisenhunt lead the Tennessee Titans back to contending for championships? The AFC South is there for the taking, with serious questions about each franchise.
If Whisenhunt can do with Locker what he did with a young Roethlisberger and an aged Warner, the Titans might have the brightest future of all in the AFC South.