The Tennessee Titans named Ken Whisenhunt their new Head Coach on Monday, less than 24 hours after the San Diego Chargers, where he was Offensive Coordinator, were eliminated from the NFL playoffs. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Whisenhunt was rumored to be in demand for several head coaching vacancies, including with the Detroit Lions, whose ownership was known to covet the Charger assistant. According to NFL.com’s Ian Rappaport, the Lions had a plane ready to fly to San Diego to pick Whisenhunt up and take him to Detroit to finalize a contract.
The hiring marks a homecoming for Whisenhunt, who started his coaching career as a Special Teams and Tight Ends Coach at nearby Vanderbilt in 1995. After two seasons, he moved on to the NFL, where he worked as a Tight Ends Coach for the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers and spent one season directing special teams for the Cleveland Browns.
It was with the Pittsburgh Steelers that he got his big break when he was named Offensive Coordinator in 2004, the same year Ben Roethlisberger made his NFL debut. He nurtured Roethlisberger along, starting with a run-heavy offense that that averaged 154 yards per game (second in the league) in Roethlisberger’s rookie season, before adapting the offense to feature more passing as Roethlisberger grew more accustomed to the pro game. His three-year run in Pennsylvania included a victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Super bowl XL.
Based on his success in Pittsburgh, the struggling Arizona Cardinals hired Ken Whisenhunt to be the Head Coach prior to the 2007 season. His six-year tenure included an improbable Super Bowl appearance in 2008 and a franchise-record 49 head coaching wins. Much like in Pittsburgh, Whisenhunt developed a game plan around a prolific quarterback, this time with All-Pro Kurt Warner. His effectiveness with quarterbacks followed him to San Diego this season, as Chargers pivot Philip Rivers had a renaissance season, producing arguably the best numbers of his career. Tennessee Titans management will look for Whisenhunt to produce similar results with whomever lines up behind center in 2014.
Following a five-year college career at Georgia Tech, the tight end was drafted in the twelfth round of the 1985 draft by the Atlanta Falcons. The underdog late-round pick stuck in the NFL for seven years, catching 62 passes for 596 total yards and five touchdowns.
Among the challenges Ken Whisenhunt faces as Head Coach are settling an unstable quarterback situation that includes journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and injury-prone Jake Locker, the eighth pick overall in the 2011 NFL draft. Like most coaches, Whisenhunt’s offenses run better when directed by a stable and effective quarterback. He also has to deal with sensitive running back Chris Johnson, who has made his desire to be a focal point of the offense well known. Whisenhunt also takes over a Tennessee Titans team that has not been to the playoffs for the past five seasons and has not won a playoff game since 2003.
By Tony Zerucha