Boclair: Titans forced to play guessing game in picking new coach

Sunday, February 6, 2011 at 10:05pm

Jeff Fisher and I sat in his office one day a few weeks after the NFL’s 2004 season had ended and discussed a bunch of topics related to the Tennessee Titans, including his search for an offensive coordinator. 

Fisher would not say so on the record, but he was decidedly unimpressed with Mike McCarthy, who had been New Orleans’ offensive coordinator the previous five years and was making the rounds, interviewing for jobs. 

In particular, the Titans head coach was befuddled by the Saints’ offensive game plan in a 2003 meeting between the teams. Fisher thought New Orleans’ approach was completely wrong and a big reason Tennessee won 27-12 that day. He eventually hired Norm Chow. 

Maybe McCarthy was not the best offensive coordinator in NFL history — although he has been involved with some pretty productive units at Kansas City, Green Bay and New Orleans — but he’s turned out to be a pretty good head coach. 

Perhaps nothing better illustrates the challenge facing the Titans in the wake of Fisher’s departure. There’s no clear-cut criteria that identifies someone who will be a successful head coach. 

Five years into his tenure, it’s safe to say McCarthy, who had no experience as a head coach at any level, is successful. He has taken the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs three times in his first five years, capped by Sunday’s Super Bowl appearance, and he’s won more often than not when he’s gotten there. 

Maybe that means Mike Heimerdinger is eminently qualified for the post. Currently the team’s offensive coordinator, Heimerdinger was interviewed for Fisher’s job last week.

McCarthy’s counterpart in the big game, Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, had one year as an NFL coordinator (defensive in his case) before he was hired. The bulk of his NFL coaching career was limited to work as a position coach. 

Perhaps that speaks well for Mike Munchak. Tennessee’s offensive line coach was the first to formally discuss the opening with the franchise’s top brass.

Then again, New England’s Bill Belichick is widely regarded as the best in the league. That notion was reaffirmed last week, when he won his third NFL Coach of the Year award. Belichick failed in his first try as a head coach, with Cleveland. Chances are, he didn’t learn a lot more about football after that, but that experience taught him how to do the job. 

The Titans asked for, and received, permission to talk to Atlanta’s Mike Mularkey, who had a completely forgettable two-year run as Buffalo’s head coach. Perhaps he was primed by those struggles to thrive once he’s given his next opportunity.

Then again, maybe none of them are right for the job.

What’s certain is that it’s not necessarily going to take Bill Cowher or John Gruden or Bill Parcells to make the Titans a perennial playoff team. The franchise does not have to pay big money for a big name. 

Good coaches are out there, but they’re not always easy to find.

Bud Adams has hired 15 of them since he founded the Houston Oilers in 1960, and six of them won fewer than three out of every 10 games on average, all but five lost more often than they won, and not one has delivered him an elusive Super Bowl title.

In his farewell press conference, Fisher tried to offer assurances about the future of the Titans when he said, “You should have all the confidence in the world in Mike [Reinfeldt] and Steve [Underwood] and the decisions they make moving forward, because they allowed me to be successful here with the confidence they had in me and vice versa.” 

It sounds nice. Then again, he didn’t think much of McCarthy, who a year later became a head coach in his own right — and a pretty good one at that. 

Guess it’s good news that Fisher didn’t get to pick his successor. But that doesn’t mean those who do so will get it right.

Contact the writer at dboclair@nashvillecitypaper.com

10 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 2/7/11 at 4:04

I am not sure what the point of this article was intended to be but we all know that good coaches are available. What the writer does not reveal is that good coaches do not apply for jobs with second and third rate franchises.

By: TITAN1 on 2/7/11 at 6:21

frankbrown/richgoose, what would you know about second and third rate? That is much too high up the ladder for you.

By: serr8d on 2/7/11 at 7:16

I think the point of the article is 'don't get your hopes up for Mularkey or especially not for John Gruden, but certainly don't feel like you've been slapped upside the head too hard when Bud Adams picks Munchak to fill the vacancy'.

There's a big door getting ready to open in front of us; it leads to The Wilderness, that place we are destined to wander for (hopefully) just a few seasons.

By: gdiafante on 2/7/11 at 8:55

Munchak's the new coach.

You never know, the only thing consistent in the NFL is that it's inconsistent. Tampa wins 10 games, Seahawks win the division, etc. In the NFC, there's been 10 different conference champs in ten years.

Granted, the AFC is deeper but it's not out of the realm of possiblity that the Titans get on a lucky streak and get a wild card spot.

I'd worry more about who the starting QB will be.

By: cookeville on 2/7/11 at 9:17

I find it interesting that Bud wants to reward loyalty over competence. But then, that's what Fisher did for years. Giving a man a job because he reminds of one's 'glory days' is just wrong on so many levels. I'm not saying Munchak won't make a good head coach, but living in the past and trying to make it the present is a recipe for disaster. It's far better to let it all go, hire someone who has no ties to anything in TN and go forward because that is the only way to go. jmo

And I also agree that it may be as important to land a quality QB as it is a good HC.

By: jwk6179 on 2/7/11 at 10:06

In the NFC, there's been 10 different conference champs in ten years.
Granted, the AFC is deeper but it's not out of the realm of possiblity that the Titans get on a lucky streak and get a wild card spot.

While it has been 10 different teams in 10 years for the NFC Super Bowl Representative (Rams, Bucs, Panthers, Eagles, Seahwaks, Bears, Giants, Cardinals, Saints, Packers), it has been only 4 AFC teams in the Super Bowl during that same time frame (Patriots, Raiders, Patriots, Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Steelers). Using those stats, you could argue that the NFC has a DEEPER LEAGUE while the AFC has more DOMINENT TEAMS.

And I agree, it doesn't matter WHO THE HEAD COACH IS if the Titans don't get it right on the NEXT FRANCHISE QB. The Titans passed on a FRANCHISE QUARTERBACK IN THE 2005 DRAFT TO SELECT PACMAN JONES. How has that worked out for the Titans and the FRANCHISE QB they passed on?

By: TITAN1 on 2/7/11 at 1:32

Hindsight is 20/20. Hopefully we will have a good draft, if the owners and players unions get off their rears and there is a season.

By: courier37027 on 2/7/11 at 3:19

TITAN1 provides his 104.5 The Zone cliched answer and in depth analysis. TITAN1, I am glad you can step up and bring this kind of insight to the table when the chips are down and your back is up against the wall.

By: TITAN1 on 2/7/11 at 3:21

courier, we appreciate your play by play of 104.5. For someone who can't stand them, you sure listen a lot.

By: courier37027 on 2/7/11 at 3:32

TITAN1, can hindsight be 20/15, and clearer than usual 20/20? You are an ophthalmologist, aren't you? If not, apparently you are spouting off, again, on a topic you know very little.