On head coaches calling the plays

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
3:25
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- President and CEO Tommy Smith says he was thrilled new head coach Ken Whisenhunt will call the offensive plays for the Tennessee Titans.

Smith couldn’t quite tell us why, but I’ve got a theory.

When his father-in-law, Oilers/Titans founder and owner Bud Adams died in October, Smith inherited a team with a head coach who had never called plays. Mike Munchak's offensive coordinator, Dowell Loggains, may have been indicted by Smith earlier when he said he thought the team needed to use Chris Johnson better.

In hiring a head coach who's his own playcaller, Smith and GM Ruston Webster are closer to the biggest decisions made on offense on a weekly basis. They didn’t hire a guy who's going to hire a guy to call the plays. They hired the guy who will call plays.

I think working as both the team's in-game CEO and the offensive playcaller can be a big stretch and strain.

"I think it is awfully tough to pull off," ESPN.com's resident scout, Matt Willliamson said. "You always have to be thinking a play ahead of time instead of 'living in the moment,' which can interfere with when to take timeouts, time management, etc. Also, if you are going to give it a shot on offense, I feel like you must have a great defensive coordinator that you totally trust to handle everything on that side of the ball."

In the case of Whisenhunt, I believe if you hire him, you’re hiring a coach who's been an effective playcaller. It would be foolish to bring him in and not let him use the skill set that rates among his best.

ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli says Bill O'Brien will call plays in Houston.

Cleveland is still in limbo, and we don’t know if Jim Caldwell will call the offense for the Detroit Lions or if Mike Zimmer will call the defense for Minnesota.

Even with those two situations unknown, play-calling head coaches are more common than I thought.

It’s nice to be able to send an email to my 31 colleagues in ESPN.com’s NFL Nation to find something like this out. Ten head coaches, including Whisenhunt, are playcallers, nine of them on offense.

And it’s a pretty good list.

Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy, in New Orleans and Green Bay, respectively, have coached their teams to Super Bowl wins.

Bruce Arians did wonderful work in his first year as head coach of Arizona, who was Whisenhunt’s successor with the Cardinals. Chip Kelly in Philadelphia, Marc Trestman in Chicago and Andy Reid in Kansas City all fared well in their first year with those teams.

Bill Curry was Whisenhunt’s head coach when Whisenhunt played and studied at Georgia Tech. Curry was a guest Friday on the radio show I am part of, The Midday 180 in Nashville.

What makes Whisenhunt a good playcaller?

"His calm and his intellect," Curry said. "There is nothing you can do to rattle him. I know, cause I've tried. ...It doesn't matter what you do to Whisenhunt.

“I think that attitude of simply wanting to win, the fact that he had an incredibly high IQ and the capacity to concentrate under extreme pressure and then the fact that he studies so hard –- I guarantee you he’s a great playcaller.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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