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VOL. 38 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 17, 2014

Whisenhunt the right choice to rebuild fan excitement

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Ken Whisenhunt, who spent last season as offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, has a Super Bowl on his resume from his six seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

-- Ap Photo/Paul Spinelli

The Tennessee Titans made the only sensible move they could make in hiring Ken Whisenhunt. With the hire, the Titans have not only managed to land a head coach with solid credentials – if you can take the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl, then you’ve performed enough miracles to earn sainthood – they’ve also re-energized a fan base that, quite frankly, had eroded nearly to the point of not caring.

Dan Quinn and Mike Zimmer are fine coaches, I’m certain, but neither were going to move the needle on an excitement meter that has barely registered a reading for almost a decade.

With all due respect to Mike Munchak, who was dealt a bad hand from the start, thanks to Jeff Fisher, Mike Reinfeldt and the meddling of late owner Bud Adams, the Titans haven’t put an exciting product on the field for the most part since the fool’s gold of Vince Young’s rookie season.

Not only has the franchise not sniffed the playoffs since 2008, the excitement was gone.

Other than an occasional 80-yard Chris Johnson run here or there, the Titans have been boring for most of the past decade.

To put it into an algebraic equation that Titans fans can certainly compute – boring plus losing equals malaise.

Think I’m wrong?

Just look at the stadium on Sundays, especially once the Titans slipped completely out of contention. The house was about two-thirds full, and those who were there weren’t exactly threatening the decibel record set in Seattle a few months ago.

There was a time in Nashville when any game would fill the stadium with loud, boisterous Titan fans.

No more.

Competition from 60-inch HD televisions and the Red Zone Channel have made it too easy for fans to stay home and watch better teams zip up and down the field, rather than paying $20 to park, $80 for a ticket and $50 more in concessions to watch the Titans struggle to score 20 points a game.

Disagree?

What story dominated talk radio and newspaper headlines last week? It wasn’t that the Titans were interviewing Jim Caldwell.

Whisenhunt at a glance

  • A native of Augusta, Ga., he once worked the manual scoreboard at the Masters. Shot even par at Augusta National in 2008.
  • Played quarterback and tight end at Georgia Tech from 1980-84.
  • Drafted in 1985 by the Atlanta Falcons in the 12th round.
  • Played nine seasons in the NFL, four with the Falcons (1985-88), two with the Redskins (1989-90) and three with the Jets (1991-93). Caught 62 passes for 601 yards and six touchdowns.
  • Was a special teams and tight ends coach at Vanderbilt in 1995 and 1996.
  • Spent 10 NFL seasons as an assistant coach, including six as a tight ends coach (Baltimore 1997-98, New York Jets 2000, Pittsburgh 2001-03), one as a special teams coach (Cleveland 1999) and three as an offensive coordinator (Pittsburgh 2004-06).
  • Spent six seasons as the head coach of the Cardinals (2007-12), posting a 45-51 record in six seasons and taking them to Super Bowl XLIII after a 12-win season in 2008.
  • Whisenhunt’s first three seasons as Arizona head coach produced records of 8-8 (2007), 9-7 (2008) and 10-6 (2009). He was the first Cardinals coach to go .500 or better in his first three seasons with the team.

It was about whether or not Vanderbilt could keep James Franklin from bolting to Penn State.

The Franklin saga turned into a soap opera, and the coach, in trying to lure some of the Commodores’ recruits away, turned out to be the snake-oil salesman many of us suspected in the first place. But that’s beside the point.

The main point is that the Titans, who supposedly rank No. 1 in the competition for Middle Tennessee’s sports attention and dollar, were being one-upped by Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt, a program that had been so bad that skeptics often urged them to jump from the SEC to the ACC or somewhere where they might be quasi-competitive.

No one would have believed 10 or 15 years ago that a Vanderbilt coaching drama would someday overshadow a Titans search.

For all his faults, Franklin excited the Commodore fan base in a way that had never happened. Now the Titans find they must do the same thing.

The Titans haven’t sunk to the depths suffered by Vanderbilt football during the last half of the 20th century, but there is no denying the hiring of Whisenhunt is a much-needed jolt that might finally bring this franchise into the 21st century, where the forward pass is king and teams routinely score 30 points every week.

Whisenhunt’s reputation is that of a quarterback whisperer. He fixed Philip Rivers this year in San Diego and revived Kurt Warner in Arizona.

Before that, he developed Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers.

You get the feeling that he can get similar results from Jake Locker, and if not, he will find some solution at the quarterback position.

At the very least, it has the fan base thinking positively for the first time in years, dreaming of a day when the Titans might once again be competitive.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.

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