NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have turned the page on the 2013 season and enter 2014 in the midst of significant change.
A new coaching staff has been assembled to guide the team's youthful roster, and the organization now begins the process of strengthening the core of the team.
On Jan. 13, Ken Whisenhunt was hired as the 17th head coach in franchise history. He replaced Mike Munchak, who led the team from 2011 through the end of the 2013 campaign. During Munchak's tenure, the Titans had a record of 22 wins and 26 losses, including a 7-9 mark in 2013.
Whisenhunt arrives in Tennessee with 26 years of NFL experience — nine seasons as a player and 17 seasons as a coach. The 51-year-old native of Augusta, Ga., owns a résumé that includes six years as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. He got his start in coaching as an assistant at Vanderbilt University from 1995 to 1996.
"Ken is a well-respected coach in this league, and I am looking forward to seeing his vision become reality for this team," said Titans President/CEO Tommy Smith. "He has a history of building successful offenses and took Arizona to a Super Bowl as a head coach. We all share a common goal for this team and that is to build a consistent winner."
As Cardinals head coach from 2007 through 2012, Whisenhunt took the franchise to new heights. He won a franchise-record 49 games and led the organization to its first NFC Championship. After a team-record 12-win season in 2008 — the first of two consecutive NFC West titles — the Cardinals made it to Super Bowl XLIII, only to suffer a narrow defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In 2013, Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers. Under his direction, the Chargers had the NFL's fifth-ranked offense (393.3 yards per game) and the league's top offense on third down (49.0 percent). Quarterback Philip Rivers'105.5 passer rating matched the highest rating of his career and placed fourth among NFL signal callers. For his efforts, Whisenhunt was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the Professional Football Writers of America.
"I look for this to be a really fine marriage," said Ruston Webster, who led the coaching search in his third offseason as general manager. "Ken is an outstanding offensive coach, but also an outstanding head coach. He has a background with several successful franchises, and we look forward to a new day and creating a new culture with the Tennessee Titans."
Whisenhunt was on the Steelers' coaching staff from 2001 through 2006, spending the first three seasons as tight ends coach and the final three campaigns as offensive coordinator. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in only his second NFL season, the 2005 club won Super Bowl XL with Whisenhunt calling the plays.
As a player, the former Georgia Tech walk-on played in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins and New York Jets. As a tight end, he caught 62 passes for 601 yards and six touchdowns in 74 career games.
"This place is special to me, and that has a pull," Whisenhunt said upon accepting the job in Tennessee. "From my experience as an opponent coming in here, the fan base is great. They are loud ... We have to do a good job of giving them a product to be proud of. The fact that I felt so good about Ruston — and Mr. Smith and I had many good conversations and I felt really good about him when I met him — that was a big piece of it."
STAFF COMES TOGETHER
One of Whisenhunt's first tasks was to hire his coordinators. He settled upon Ray Horton as defensive coordinator and Jason Michael on the offensive side.
Michael spent the last three seasons as the tight ends coach for the Chargers, working with tight ends Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. In 2013, Gates led the Chargers in receptions (77), Green posted a 22.1-yard receiving average.
Michael attended Western Kentucky University, where as a quarterback he led the 2002 Hilltoppers to an NCAA I-AA Championship. He later spent three total seasons on Phillip Fulmer's coaching staff at the University of Tennessee.
Horton, who played safety for 10 total seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals (1983-88) and Dallas Cowboys (1989-92), has spent the last 20 years in coaching. He was with Whisenhunt in 2011 and 2012 as defensive coordinator for the Cardinals.
In 2013, Horton was the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns. He helped transform the Browns from the 23rd-ranked defense the year before his arrival to the ninth-best defensive unit in the NFL under his leadership.
Whisenhunt first encountered Horton in Pittsburgh. From 2004 through 2010, Horton served as the team's defensive backs coach or assistant defensive backs coach.
When Whisenhunt's staff was finalized, it featured a total of 19 assistants. Twelve were new to the team, and seven remained from 2013.
"You make relationships with coaches, with men as you go through this business, and part of my job is my assessment of good coaches," Whisenhunt said. "When you get an opportunity to get those coaches with you, that's what you do."