Ever since the end of last season Mike Munchak has been realistic about his standing as the Tennessee Titans coach. At best, it is tenuous, which he has been quick to acknowledge.
Simply put: If things don’t get better — and quickly — this season could be his last on the job. Never mind that it is just his third.
It was not just that the Titans went 6-10 in 2012. Jeff Fisher endured worse than that during his 16-plus seasons on the job. In fact, he had back-to-back years with five and four victories, respectively, yet remained firmly in place for another five seasons.
The bigger issue was the way Munchak’s team lost some of those games. Opponents scored 30 points or more eight times in 16 games, including two in which they topped 50. One loss was by a whopping 48 points. Another was by 31.
A lack of competitiveness is difficult to tolerate, particularly for the team’s owner, Bud Adams, who is 90 years old and still in search of his first Super Bowl trophy.
Adams still lives and works in Houston, as he always has. It is easy to imagine him as the guy in the black hat, the one with the compelling reason to make the sort of decision that is always difficult, open to second-guessing and which guarantees nothing in terms of what is to come.
Perhaps, though, the unease that Munchak acknowledges and that we all agree exists says more about Nashville as a whole than it does a single businessman in southeast Texas. Perhaps the evolution of Music City as a sports town has reached a point that patience no longer is a virtue.
It has been 15 years since two professional franchises arrived, a Big Bang of sorts that was bound to reshape the identity and philosophy of a city that up to that point was an oversized college town where the most popular college — in terms of athletic rooting interest, at least — was nearly 200 miles to the east.
People immediately talked about the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately nature of pro sports and what a departure that might be for those who never had experienced it.
Instead, Nashville initially defined itself as something different, a place where Fisher was widely embraced through good or bad, where Barry Trotz not only was tolerated through the Predators’ growing pains but where his appeal seemed strengthened by the struggle, where college coaches like Kevin Stallings and Bobby Johnson seemed immune to the pressures the vast majority of their peers faced, where it looked like (albeit from a distance) Phil Fulmer had the option to coach for life.
Now, as the first week of NFL preseason games signals the start of the new sports calendar, Munchak is not the only one under some pressure. The Predators’ brain trust of Trotz and general manager David Poile faces more scrutiny than ever after one big free agent fiasco seemingly sent the entire 2012-13 season (such as it was) down the tubes. Despite a pair of Sweet 16 appearances and the program’s first SEC tournament championship in 60 years, folks nonetheless have become a little more skeptical of Stallings in the wake of recent player departures. Fulmer is distant memory as the UT football program is now on its third coach in five years.
Plus, the biggest change of all, James Franklin’s sudden success with Vanderbilt football, raises the question of how long anyone should wait for coaches to deliver the desired results.
If Munchak gets fired after this season there will be no turning back. Nashville’s sporting innocence will be gone once and for all and a truly professional attitude will be in place.
It was just a matter of time, which for those in charge of the local teams is now more precious than ever.