The Tennessee Titans fired Coach Mike Munchak on Saturday, a day after his meeting with CEO Tommy Smith and general manager Ruston Webster in Houston.
Munchak, per a report, appeared on the verge of coming back for a for a fourth season, but the Titans issued a statement on Friday night that no final decision had been made on the coach's future. The decision to move forward with a change was made after Munchak and Webster spoke on Saturday.
“I think Mike was in a fairly difficult situation in my mind. He was a bridge between having a long tenured coach that had just left, and things had been done a certain way, and an older owner who in his tenure passed away. I think we've been in a pretty major transition and he was part of that. He's actually made the place better,” Webster said.
But because Munchak did not see eye-to-eye on a number of changes – including the firing of a handful of coaches on the staff for 2014 – the Titans parted ways with the 32-year employee.
He was a first-round pick in 1982 and carved out a Hall of Fame playing career with the club before becoming its offensive line coach and then ascending to head coach in 2011.
Speculation is that for Munchak to come back that he would have had to make signifcant changes on his staff, perhaps including long-time friends like offensive line coach and fellow Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and linebackers coach Chet Parlevecchio, a college teammate of Munchak's at Penn State. It was also likely that Gregg Williams would have stepped in for Jerry Gray on a 2014 Munchak staff.
“In the end, we were not able to agree just on the future or the direction of the franchise, and I felt it was time to make a change. We move ahead into the next phase of the Tennessee Titans and look for the next coach, and also looking for great things. We'll start the process now,” Webster said.
The fate of the current group of assistant coaches will be decided on Monday, when Webster meets with them, but the likelihood is that most or all will be let go.
Munchak ends his Titans career as head coach with a 22-26 record after finishing 7-9 this past season.
The Titans now begin that search for a new head coach, with Webster in charge of that situation with Smith signing off on any hire.
Webster's background includes stops at Seattle and Tampa Bay and among the possible coaching candidates with ties to him are Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr. all have ties to Webster in their background.
Others who could be intriguing possibilities include Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt or even Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. Webster did not rule out Williams, who was on the current staff as a senior defensive assistant.
“I'd like somebody I can work with, similar to the way I worked with Mike. I think it's important that that person has a system that he believes in and that we can draft and sign players to fit that system,” Webster said. “If we're not on the same page in what we're looking for in the job description, then that makes it difficult.
And we want somebody that can work with our current players and continue to develop them and turn them into the best players they can be.”
The change also calls into question the future of starting quarterback Jake Locker, who is currently months away from being able to return as he rehabs a foot injury. A new offensive system will be in place, and it could be tough for Locker to catch up, unless he can get healthy by OTAs and mini-camps. On that matter, Webster said he would like to see Locker be a part of the plan going forward
“I'm a fan of Jake's and would love to see him have success here. The important thing is that that guy, that coach, has a plan to move forward and for success and to build a team and continue to build off what we have here,” Webster said.
As for Munchak, he had been mentioned as a candidate to be head coach at his alma mater, Penn State, which lost Bill O'Brien to the Houston Texans.
Munchak also could easily land a job coaching offensive again in the NFL if he wanted to.
Players had voiced support for Munchak as the season ended and had hoped the would be back.
"He's a good man and a good coach," receiver Damian Williams said after the firing. "I wish him nothing but success in his next job."