Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Munchak Survives Black Monday…But Not for Lack of Trying

Gailey, Crennel, Reid, Whisenhunt, Turner, Smith, Shurmur...did we miss anybody?? Black Monday (yesterday) in the NFL saw the ouster of some very familiar head coaching names. None of ‘em had ever won a Super Bowl, but Andy Reid, Ken Whisenhunt and Lovie Smith got close. And Norv Turner and Romeo Crennel won the Super Bowl as assistants.

The Bears’ Smith got fired despite a 10-6 record. His team started fast, lost steam, then won too little/too late and missed the playoffs, which is not always—but can often be—the benchmark by which good coaching is adjudged. It’s at least a rationale when front office types and owners want to make a change.

Smith was 81-63 over nine years. He won in double digits four times, he had a winning record five times, he made the postseason three times, and he took the Bears to their only other Super Bowl (2006 season) besides the historic 1985 Ditka team. Still, Lovie got canned.

One coach who didn’t get canned—or at least appears to be safe for now—is the Titans' Mike Munchak (left). Hall of Famer and all-around nice guy Munchak was a longtime Titans assistant—not ever a coordinator, by the way—then took over in 2011 after the well-tenured Jeff Fisher was sent packing after 17 seasons with the Oilers/Titans.

Fisher’s 6-10 record in 2010 was deemed as the final indicator of his slippage. He’d had a couple of lousy seasons in the past (2004-5) but they seemed to be necessary stumbles on the way to a rebuild that blossomed into the playoff-caliber teams of 2007-8. 

Fisher might’ve been given a bad rap, but his run was still longer than most and actually pretty historic.

So the big question is, If Jeff Fisher can’t survive a 6-10 season, how the heck can Mike Munchak?

Munchak rung up a 9-7 record in his inaugural season, his team playing a weak schedule. Nevertheless, the Titans inspired hope of a kind, however guarded.

This year the wheels fell off, and the team often looked flat-out bad. Who can forget these awful losses: 34-13 (Patriots), 38-10 (Chargers), 38-14 (Texans), 30-7 (Vikings), 51-20 (Bears), 55-7 (Packers). The Titans also lost both of their games to the Indianapolis Colts, who were being led by a rookie QB and whose head coach wasn’t on the sidelines for either game because of leukemia.

Even in victory, 14-10 over the demoralized Jets, the Titans looked like—let’s face it—crap.

But Munchak apparently will be staying, even though there’s nothing to recommend him save his Hall of Fame career as an Oiler and owner Bud Adams’ fondness for him.

Adams did take the curious step the other day of canning chief operating officer Mike Reinfeldt, another former Oiler, who replaced the excellent Floyd Reese in 2007. Reinfeldt, it turns out—his All-Pro status as a player notwithstanding—was mostly a bean-counter and contract negotiator for the Packers and Seahawks. He did little, if any, talent evaluation. Ditto his tenure with the Titans.

Eventually, he brought in Ruston Webster (left), who was previously the interim general manager of the Seattle Seahawks after serving there as the vice president of player personnel under general manager Tim Ruskell. Prior to joining the Seahawks, Webster was a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ front office, where he started as a regional scout. Webster was elevated to Titans executive vice-president/general manager in Jan. 2012, after serving two seasons as VP of player personnel.

Webster has survived Adams’ chopping block for now, and as GM it appears the reins are all his. Hard to know what that means for a Titans roster that needs help pretty much everywhere—on both lines, especially—and will enter 2013 hoping that Jake Locker is still the quarterback of the future. (Don’t be surprised if it turns out he isn’t.)

And there’s another problem that may need addressing: running back. Fact is, Chris Johnson’s occasional flash is fun, but on balance it’s pretty worthless. Ace bean-counter Reinfeldt paid him an obscene pile of cash to pull off his exciting breakaway runs—which happened about three times in 2012. Johnson turns 28 next season, and if he’s not a step slower now, he probably will be then, because that’s what happens to running backs eventually. 

It might be argued that Johnson was never used properly after his brilliant 2009 season, but it’s too late to worry about it now. Better to hope that the Titans find an offensive coordinator of value who can re-cast the talent into something varied and productive. 
(Dowell Loggains? Really?) 

The jury is out on Webster’s ability to draft and develop talent on a consistent high level. He’ll certainly get his chance flying solo now, with only the 2012 draft officially his responsibility heretofore. Can he find the Titans difference-makers? No one knows.

Nor do we know if Munchak can coach ‘em up even if he’s given the talent. Yeah, he eggs ‘em on, and rah-rah is nice. Yet his assistants didn’t look too swift this year. (Is Jerry Gray returning as defensive coordinator? That seems impossible to fathom.) 

As a Titan fan who’s tired of mediocrity, I’ll forgo nice guy Mike and instead take stiff-lipped public diffidence (like Bill Belichick) and results in the win column any day. 

Failing that? Well, some folks in the Bible Belt believe in prayer. Especially on Sundays.