Ken Whisenhunt should thank his lucky stars.
In case you didn’t see the news, read the internet, etc., the second year coach of the Tennessee Titans was fired Tuesday morning six weeks into the season.
Whisenhunt, known in coaching circles as an outstanding offensive mind admittedly has had a mediocre at best head coaching career. He is one of only a handful of coaches to make it to the Super Bowl, taking the Arizona Cardinals to the brink in one of the most exciting games in Super Bowl history losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final seconds of the game. But other than a couple of good seasons in Arizona his record hasn’t been that great as far as wins and losses – all that matters these days in the pros. As a head coach he has won only 46.9 percent of his games.
And while that sounds underwhelming it’s one percentage point less than the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans all-time win/loss record of 47.9 percent.
While the team looks to be going nowhere at 1-6, Whisenhunt inherited a dumpster fire. The longest tenured coach in the team’s history of 17 years, Jeff Fisher, who took the Titans to their only Super Bowl only had a winning percentage of 54.2 percent of the games he coached.
The Oilers/Titans have a long history of making one franchise draft choice but never surrounding that player with any support except once. That was when Steve McNair and Eddie George were in the backfield together. George is the franchise’s leading rusher with 10,002 yards and McNair should have been a better quarterback than he was but because of a poor offensive line, something that still hasn’t been addressed he had to be more of a running quarterback ad spent a lot of time out of action with a myriad of injuries before he was let go after the 2006 season. Also the fact the team never had a quarterback friendly offensive coordinator did not help him either. The Titans squandered what they had with an arm like McNair’s. Proof is in watching what he did when he signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2005 as he was one of the top passers in a more quarterback friendly situation that allowed him to throw out of the pocket and run less. He threw for more yards and touchdowns that year than any year with the Titans.
But the futility in what is the Oilers/Titans since their inception as part of the AFL in 1960 is hard to deny. And things started so well for Bud Adams and his franchise. The Oilers won the first two AFL championships in 1960 and ‘61 with George Blanda under center. Yes, that George Blanda that people recognize as the place kicker of the Oakland Raiders. Blanda was drafted in 1949 by the Chicago Bears and set early AFL passing records before going west and becoming most famous as the Raiders’ kicker and as the oldest active NFL player, staying on an NFL roster until he was 46.
The Oilers/Titans had their fair share of marquee quarterbacks with whom they did nothing. There was Charlie Johnson who ended up taking the Denver Broncos to the playoffs, Dan Pastorini who benefited by Earl Campbell being drafted in 1977. The Oilers had a nice run but could not make it to the Super Bowl.
Then there was Warren Moon, who originally was banished to the CFL because no one in the NFL had a black starting quarterback willingly at that time. When he finally joined the Oilers he set every Oiler passing record, many which still stand today. But they gave up on him and let him go to the Minnesota Vikings. He led the Vikings to a number of playoff appearances, just missing the Super Bowl when Morten Anderson hit a last second field goal in the NFC championship game in 1998/99 to lift the Falcons over the Vikings. That season the Vikings had the best record in the NFL at 15-1. Moon retired after the 2000 season where he finished his career as a backup with the Kansas City Chiefs. Ironically his last game on an NFL roster was against the Falcons, the team that ruined his playoff run and spectacular season of 1998
Moon is one of a handful of Oilers/Titans in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You can literally count the number of Oilers/Titans on one hand that have been inducted into Canton. Compare that to members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins who have more members from that team inducted than the Oilers/Titans in their entire franchise history.
That says a lot about personnel decisions of the team, more so than coaching. The team has had a number of good, if not great quarterbacks in its 56-year history – Blanda, Johnson, Pastorini, Moon, McNair, Chris Chandler briefly (he led the Falcons to the Super Bowl in the 1998/99 season), Vince Young (who never adapted his game to the NFL and was bounced out of the league after five seasons), Jake Locker, Zach Mettenberger, even Archie Manning briefly at the end of his career and now Marcus Mariota.
But most of these arms went or are going to waste. Most of the listed quarterbacks had no one to throw the ball to. Sure, there was Frank Wycheck at tight end for Steve McNair, but off the top of your head can you name a Oilers/Titans receiver ñ other than one with a rap sheet? I doubt it. Some of you may say Derrick Mason, but he was marginal at best. I can’t name a single Houston Oilers receiver off the top of my head and besides Wycheck and Mason the only other receivers I can name off the top of my head were/are former Atlanta Falcons. Alge Crumpler played a few seasons after being the target of choice for Michael Vick in Atlanta. He was jettisoned off to the Titans when the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era started. Currently there is Harry Douglas, who was a great slot receiver in Atlanta who is currently being under-used and Chase Coffman a castoff tight end who was a teammate of Douglas.
Oh yeah, I also forgot to mention Matt Hasselback quarterbacked the Titans for a few seasons. He led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl in the 2005/6 season.
One thing all these quarterbacks have in common is that they spent more time on the injury report than as the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week. During the 2014 season in at least one game the Titans used three different quarterbacks – not because of ineffectiveness (although they were), but because of injury. The fact that Locker, who had one of the strongest arms in the league retired after four seasons should make one wonder. Number two overall draft pick this year, Mariota has missed his last two starts with a sprained MCL. And after a fast start in the season opener he has been bounced around and made some bad throws mainly because he has been under so much pressure from opposing defenses.
This is a dysfunctional franchise. They ran off Bum Phillips who in his five years coaching the Oilers holds the franchise record for highest winning percentage at 74.5 percent.
But dysfunction is a major part of this organization. Besides running off Bum there was the Jeff Fisher situation. Fisher coached the Oilers/Titans for 16-plus seasons and ed them to their only Super Bowl appearance. Despite being their longest tenured coach he only won on average 8.4 games a season.
Then there was the Vince Young debacle. Fisher was quite vocal that he didn’t want the team to draft Young. He was more in favor or drafting Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler. Owner Bud Adams and upper management were adamant that they wanted Young and he was drafted. Young succeeded his first two seasons before defenses figured him out and he was bounced out of the league after five seasons. Young butted heads with Fisher and it was well known by everyone that Fisher was not a fan of Young. When Young went down with an injury he replaced Young with journeyman quarterback Kerry Collins who played for Carolina, the Giants and Raiders before being signed as a security blanket to backup Young. Fisher knew what he was doing. Collins took over and didn’t give the job back to Young until after a public power play between Adams and Fisher with the Titans coach obviously losing.
Soon both were out in Tennessee. Fisher really upset upper management when he was a guest speaker at a charity event for one of Peyton Manning’s philanthropy where Fisher gushed over the Colt quarterback and then when he got through with his speech he took off his shirt to reveal a Peyton Manning jersey underneath. Following that season Fisher was gone and after taking a year off he was hired as the head coach of the St. Louis Rams. And while they haven’t had a winning record under him they are considered an up and coming franchise and are in first place in the NFC West as of this writing.
The Titans continue to flounder and haven’t been above .500 since 2011. To give you and idea of the historical dysfunction and poor choices of the Oilers/Titans here is fact to boggle the mind. In their 55½ seasons the franchise has won a total of 402 games. Hall of Fame coach Don Shula who was a head coach in the league from 1964 to 1995 won 328. And while Whisenhunt did nothing to help himself in Nashville, his fate was probably already sealed before he signed his contract.
– David N. Marks
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