Mike Heimerdinger’s return to the Tennessee Titans as offensive coordinator appeared imminent Wednesday night, just hours after the Denver Broncos granted permission for him to speak with his former club.
Heimerdinger, who was the Titans offensive coordinator for five seasons from 2000-04, would replace the man who replaced him, as Norm Chow was fired on Tuesday. Both Heimerdinger and Titans coach Jeff Fisher are on vacation, but barring unforeseen complications, a deal could be worked out shortly.
According to those with knowledge of the situation, some in the Broncos’ organization have already conceded that Heimerdinger will be returning to the Titans, as soon as a contract can be finalized.
Heimerdinger did not comment when contacted by The City Paper Wednesday afternoon and did not return a call on Wednesday night.
A statement from Heimerdinger’s current boss Mike Shanahan in Denver was telling on Wednesday.
“The opportunity in Tennessee would give Mike the chance to go back to an organization and work with a head coach with whom he is very familiar, handling the entire offense and having full control over game-planning and play-calling responsibilities,” Shanahan said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday granting permission.
Heimerdinger, who was the Titans offensive coordinator from 2000-04, has the title of offensive coordinator in Denver, but defers play calling to Shanahan.
Heimerdinger, 55, surfaced almost immediately as the top candidate on Tuesday when Chow was fired after a three-year run as Heimerdinger’s successor.
Heimerdinger has been in Denver the past two seasons after one year with the New York Jets where he spent 2005 as offensive coordinator. He wound up back with Shanahan and the Broncos, where he had been receivers coach before coming to Tennessee, the following season after Herman Edwards left the Jets for Kansas City and new Jets coach Eric Mangini brought in his own staff.
During Heimerdinger’s five-year run as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, the Titans offense was never ranked lower than 17th overall in total yards. That was the high-water mark for Chow’s offenses, which finished 17th in 2005, 27th in 2006 and 21st this past season, albeit with almost a completely different roster than what Heimerdinger had during his tenure.
In Heimerdinger’s best season, 2003, Tennessee finished eighth in the NFL in total offense with 5,501 total yards and scored 435 points, the most the franchise had put up since a 513-point season in 1961 in the old AFL. The Titans most productive season under Chow came in 2006 when the team scored 324 points.
The first item of business for an offense that finished last in red-zone efficiency in 2007 and had an NFL-low nine touchdown passes, will be to hasten the development of second-year quarterback Vince Young, who regressed this past season in a number of key statistical areas, compared to his 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign.
Young had just nine touchdown throws and 17 interceptions, while throwing for 2,546 yards and posting a 71.1 passer rating.
While with the Titans, Heimerdinger helped mold Steve McNair from a running quarterback relying on a short passing game into a co-Most Valuable Player in 2003, a season in which he had 24 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions. Backup Billy Volek also blossomed playing for an injured McNair in 2004 with a pair of 400-yard passing games and 18 touchdown passes in just 10 games.
His return to the Titans could help a lethargic passing game, according to guard Benji Olson, one of the few players left over from Heimerdinger’s first regime.
“Dinger was very good at exploiting things the secondary and opening up the passing game,” said Olson, who is still mulling whether or not to come back for an 11th NFL season after struggling through back problems again in 2007.
Running backs coach Sherman Smith said would endorse the move of Heimerdinger coming back.
“We know his strengths as a coach. He knows the offense and knows the coaches and can help us win,” Smith said.
Efforts to reach Fisher on Wednesday were unsuccessful.