Parsing Ken Whisenhunt’s first answers as Titans head coach

I finally got a chance to watch and parse all of Ken Whisenhunt's introductory press conference. For those of you who haven't, the transcript the team posted is pretty accurate and complete.

One of the difficult things about parsing an opening press conference, especially when the coach in question was just hired from an NFL job, is (a) almost every coach says they want a smart, tough, disciplined football team with good players, or at least doesn't say they want a stupid, soft, lazy team with bad players on it, and (b) Whisenhunt has a valid excuse for punting on any question related to specific players and personnel. When he says he needs to evaluate the Titans' players on both sides of the ball before making definitive pronouncements, there is a very good chance he's telling the truth.

In fact, only two players were mentioned by name in the presser, Jake Locker and Chris Johnson. The Locker question came early, and Whisenhunt understandably punted on a detailed evaluation. But while he punted, he still noted he liked Locker coming out (though not enough to convince the Cardinals, who had the fifth pick, to actually draft him), and further noted he'd done a good job in the past of putting quarterbacks in positions to be successful, also his goal here. That was not absolutely an endorsement of Locker as the starting quarterback in 2014, nor was Ruston Webster's later comment that Jake had a good chance to be the starting quarterback again. While Whisenhunt also did not rule out picking a quarterback with the 11th pick, that both he and Webster praised Locker is something I will read as an endorsement of him as the 2014 starter.

Johnson, meanwhile, got no such declarations of support. Whisenhunt completely punted-still a valid excuse. Webster, meanwhile, pleaded complete focus on the coaching search. You may believe that if you wish, or you may consider that he spent a couple days with Mike Munchak going over the state of the team. It's possible he and Whisenhunt did not discuss Johnson's specific 2014 status in sufficient detail to reach a final decision-given Whisenhunt's obligations, that is probably the case. It is also possible Webster wants to keep Johnson, as he reportedly did this past offseason, and needs to convince Whisenhunt of the wisdom of that decision. If that were the case, it would have been easy to give a brief, non-committal expression of support. I'm probably overreading the tea leaves, but I found it notable that he did not do so.

Beyond the specific player notes, Whisenhunt noted he would be calling the plays on offense. Tommy Smith indicated he approved of that; I'm more agnostic to negative, generally preferring a head coach who has the ability to focus all of his attention on the entire game instead of dividing his attention between overall game and team management and getting ready for the next series on his side of the ball. That means his defensive coordinator will have a great deal of freedom and control of the defense and its direction, placing added importance on what was already his most important hire. Whisenhunt indicated he was not interested in running the "traditional" 3-4 2-gap defense, and further that sub packages rule the day in the NFL. Considering Whisenhunt's reported interest in Steelers coach Keith Butler and Ray Horton, I would not rule out a multi-gap or Wade Phillips-style one-gap 3-4. I would be fine with Ray Horton, whom I consider a very smart coach and versatile enough to adapt to his players, as coordinator.

What stood out particularly in the press conference, in terms of why Whisenhunt said he picked the Titans and the model he wants to build, is Pittsburgh Steelers Envy. One of the reasons the Steelers have been so successful as a franchise for so long is they've had a great deal of continuity and unity between the front office and the team the coaching staff wants to put out there. That's where Whisenhunt's background is, what type of team he tried to build in Arizona, and probably the closest NFL analogue to the Alabama program where Webster earned his first chops. While Whisenhunt did not go into specifics about what he learned from his first time as head coach that he can improve on his second time as head coach, it was hard for me to hear him talk about the fit with Webster and not think about possible tensions with Rod Graves, the longtime general manager of the Cardinals who was fired at the same time Whisenhunt was. That sort of unity is a tremendously valuable thing, but it's a lot easier to talk about it than it is to achieve it.

Beyond the presser, Whisenhunt and Webster made the rounds of Nashville sports radio for appearances that combined totaled for over an hour and a half. I'll let you know if they said anything particularly notable in any of those once I get a chance to actually listen to all of them.

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