As Mike Munchak prepared to move into the big office, the Tennessee Titans' new head coach suggested that none of those who — like him — were assistant coaches last season should get comfortable in theirs.
“To me, I feel like we’re starting fresh,” Munchak said when asked about the staff. “It’s not the same-old, same-old. I think we can come in, sit down and figure out what’s best for the Titans going forward with what we have here obviously and then just go from there. … Anything is possible.”
When he was named the 16th coach in franchise history and succeeded Jeff Fisher on Monday, Munchak inherited a staff with some significant openings. Five spots, including his post as offensive line coach, were open.
That is not to say he is limited to hiring five people. General Manager Mike Reinfeldt said Munchak has “broad discretion” in terms of the makeup of his staff.
“You need to give the head coach the freedom to put together his staff,” Reinfeldt said.
A list of the current openings:
• Defensive coordinator: Chuck Cecil was fired after two seasons on the job. That move was made a week before Fisher left.
• Defensive line coach: Jim Washburn signed a multiyear deal with Philadelphia in what turned out to be the start of the staff overhaul.
• Running backs coach: The position effectively opened last offseason when Kennedy Pola, hired only months earlier, left to join Lane Kiffin at USC. That led the Titans to file a lawsuit against Kiffin and the university. Former quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson filled that role during the season but last month went to Minnesota to be quarterbacks coach.
• Wide receivers coach: Fred Graves took the same job with Carolina as the Titans were in the midst of interviewing head coach candidates.
• Offensive line coach: Munchak held down that job since 1997. Outside of strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson, no staff member had been in a particular role longer.
Although Munchak has spent his entire professional career — as a player and a coach — with the Oilers/Titans, he is comfortable that the size of his network of friends and contacts in conjunction with that of others within the organization will reveal qualified candidates for each of the openings — and even some openings that do not currently exist.
“It’s amazing how many people you know, especially when you get a job,” he said. “… All of a sudden your phone’s ringing like crazy.
“I’ve been already in the past week or so looking into the guys that are available. There’s always good coaches. … You’re going to take the feedback from everybody and then hopefully get that feedback, and between myself and our staff make the decision on how it fits.”
Virtually all of last season’s assistants already were given contracts for the 2011 season, which means it will cost the team to replace any of them. Executive Vice President Steve Underwood acknowledged that was a possibility “within reason.”
“The first thing I’ll be doing [is] talking to the defensive guys that are here, the offensive staff who’s here, kind of a chance to talk about what my vision is more specifically with them and then decide what’s best,” Munchak said. “To me, it is going to be like putting together a puzzle. That is how I think you put it together.
“It is a group effort, so I want to have different strengths so people can get better.”