AFC South: Lovie Smith

Pondering Ruston Webster's connections

December, 24, 2013
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak said on Monday he hopes for the support of general manager Ruston Webster going forward.

We know the two have a good working relationship.

We know Webster has not offered any indication he doesn't support Munchak, but he also has not been out front banging the drum that the coach will or should be back for his fourth season in 2014.

[+] EnlargeRuston Webster
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsTitans general manager Ruston Webster will have some hefty team and personnel decisions to make once the 2013 season ends.
It's not his drum to bang.

Webster will have input, but the final decision belongs to the head of the new ownership group, team president and CEO Tommy Smith.

Webster may tell Smith he believes completely in Munchak and thinks he should be back. He also may say otherwise.

Munchak was the hire of late owner Bud Adams, and Mike Reinfeldt was general manager at the time. Reinfeldt moved up a notch in the front office to senior executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2012, and Webster was then promoted to GM.

Then Adams fired Reinfeldt after the 2012 season, largely for his failure to chase Peyton Manning as aggressively as the owner wanted him to.

Smith made it clear when he recently spoke to Nashville media that Webster is well liked and completely safe as the team’s top football executive in Nashville.

Webster is low key and hardly a power-hungry guy. But his reputation is on the line when he gives Smith his assessment. He may never have a position of more strength, and if he believes the Titans would be better served by a new coach, he will say so. And he would have a big hand in putting candidates in front of Smith.

If Webster backs Munchak, the coach stays and things don't get better, Webster’s rep gets dented, too.

I don’t know what his answer will be when Smith says, “What should we do?” But I don’t think it’s a certainty that he feels married to Munchak in the way many seem to assume.

Webster worked for the Buccaneers from 1988-05 and for the Seahawks from 2006-09.

I looked at the staffs of those teams to create a list of guys he could look to if he’s asked to provide candidates to take over for Munchak. A front-office guy isn’t always in position to get to know coaching staffs well, but Webster certainly knew many of these guys on a level where he gained some insight. Maybe no one with a previous connection would be a candidate, but usually there would be at least one guy with some prior connection in the mix.

Webster has worked with head coaches Ray Perkins, Richard Williamson, Sam Wyche, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren in addition to Jeff Fisher and Munchak.

It's rather amazing some of the coaches he has worked with when they were assistants with the Buccaneers and Seahawks. Eleven of them went on to be head coaches: Mike Mularkey, Herm Edwards, Rod Marinelli, Lovie Smith, Jim Caldwell, Mike Tomlin, Raheem Morris, Ray Rhodes, Jim Zorn, Jim Mora and Gus Bradley.

And he’s been with the same organization as some well known, quality assistants: Sylvester Croom (again now with the Titans), Mike Shula, David Culley, Monte Kiffin, Clyde Christensen, Rich Bisaccia, Kyle Shanahan, Bruce DeHaven and Greg Knapp.

Mularkey was one of the guys the Titans looked at when Adams wound up promoting Munchak. Mularkey flamed out in one season in Jacksonville in his second stint as a head coach, and I doubt his overbearing, controlling style would be attractive at this point.

Smith, Caldwell and Jay Gruden are on the NFL’s Career Advisory Development Panel’s list of head coaching candidates, per Peter King of The MMQB.

I’ve not talked to Webster about any of these guys. If he’s creating a list, it wouldn’t surprise me if one or more of these names are on it based on his previous experience with them.

Lovie Smith had a good run with the Bears before being fired after a 10-6 season in 2012. He’s a cool and collected coach from the Dungy tree. The issue is that he’s a defensive coach who consistently failed to develop a quarterback with the Bears and could never find the people or formula to build an offensive line that offered sufficient protection. Smith was linebackers coach in Tampa from 1996 through 2000. The Titans have severe linebacker issues.

• Current Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was an offensive assistant with the Buccaneers in 2004-05 while Webster was also in Tampa. Gruden has passed on some head coaching interview opportunities in the recent past, but might feel ready for them now. My one big concern based of what I saw of him on "Hard Knocks" is the super complicated play calls in his offense. I like him as a candidate if he promised to scale back and simplify.

Aaron Kromer was a senior assistant with the 2005 Bucs and is now offensive coordinator and offensive line coach of the Chicago Bears. Things have gotten a lot better with the Bears offense this season, but how much of that has been because of him and how much is because of his boss, Marc Trestman? Kromer worked as an interim head coach during one stage of Sean Payton's suspension with the Saints in 2012. That was hardly a raging success. They started 0-4 and finished his six games 2-4. I’m told he’s dry publicly, but confident.

• UCLA coach Jim Mora coached defensive backs for the Seahawks in 2007 and bumped up to assistant head coach and defensive backs coach in 2008. I have no idea if he’s interested in a return to the NFL. But in three seasons as Atlanta’s head coach (2004-06) he compiled a 27-23 record. Perhaps he’ll be regarded as a guy whose second turn as a head coach after time away from working as an NFL head coach could be a lot better. It worked that way for Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick.

Del Rio can quiet staff status talk

January, 15, 2010
Jaguars tight ends coach to Bears offensive line coach is a lateral move that is a question-provoking one for Mike Tice.

But Dan Pompei puts a bit to rest with this report: Jacksonville granted Chicago permission to talk to Tice while it was still unclear what would become of coach Jack Del Rio. Tice wants to be closer to his kids in the Midwest.

Del Rio has never hesitated to change assistants but seemed headed for a stable offseason. Indications from inside have long been, however, that there were two tiers on the staff -- those who qualified as JDR’s inner circle and those who didn’t.

Had Tice been in the second group, this move would have been more understandable. But he was not. He was viewed as a confidant and I would have thought the Jaguars would have worked to keep him.

In either spot, Tice would have been working for a boss who will land on the hot seat if his team doesn’t make a dramatic improvement. Lovie Smith needs his team to make a big jump to remain secure.

Del Rio is now in the market for a tight ends coach.

And he has an opportunity to shape this shift to his benefit. Instead of letting us wonder if the replacement will fall inside or outside the inner circle, he’d be wise to work to grant the newcomer and the entire staff the status.
Titans faithful have quite a bit to root for if their team is going to sneak into the No. 6 seed spot in the AFC.

They’d be wise to add this to that list: a big finish for Chicago.

George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesLosing coordinator Mike Heimerdinger to another team in the offseason would be greatly detrimental to the Titans continued progress on offense.
If the Bears can manage a win Monday night over Minnesota at Soldier Field and a win at Detroit to finish the season, it can only help head coach Lovie Smith’s job security.

And that would be a good thing for Tennessee.

If the Bears are in the market for a head coach to come in, fix Jay Cutler and get the Bears moving in the right direction, you’d have to expect Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger would be on their list.

Heimerdinger has not only helped resurrect Vince Young, a quarterback who many thought was incapable of playing effectively in the league, but he also has a good history with Cutler and ties to the area.

As a high-ranking offensive assistant for Mike Shanahan in Denver in 2006 and 2007, Heimerdinger helped make Cutler the hot commodity the Bears were willing to give up so much to get.

As a 57-year old coach in line for his first NFL head coaching job, you’d figure his price tag would be reasonable. Money would be a factor for Chicago, which couldn’t have afforded to court Shanahan even if he wasn’t in line to take over in Washington.

To top it off, Heimerdinger grew up a Bears fan in Dekalb, Ill., west of Chicago.

Chicago’s gain would be a big setback for the Titans, who are already facing an offseason that’s expected to include a lot of roster turnover with veterans including Keith Bulluck, Kevin Mawae, Alge Crumpler, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nick Harper due to become free agents.

The offense doesn’t face a lot of change, except perhaps a bit of offensive line shuffling.

But if Heimerdinger were to leave?

The defense’s adjustment to Chuck Cecil as its new coordinator after Jim Schwartz was hired in Detroit was part of the Titans’ 0-6 start this season. The offense has settled into Heimerdinger’s scheme, reinstalled when he returned to the team in 2008. It would hate to face a similar circumstance to the Schwartz-Cecil transition next year and it could really stall Young.

I asked three key Titans on offense what they thought.

“We have adjusted to every situation or circumstance that you could possibly have, we keep finding ways to get better and not give up and he’s a huge part of it,” Crumpler said. “I think it would be a serious blow.”

“That definitely would be a good fit,” tight end Bo Scaife said. “But every offense needs players to make things work. Dinger’s done a good job with V so far. I think this is just the start of something that could be special here for our organization and out offense. That would be a blow.”

Said Justin Gage: “For him personally I think it would be good. It’d be a chance for him to move up to a head coaching spot, be in a city he’s familiar with and loves and a quarterback he’s familiar with. For me? I think it would set us back. …If I was going to be selfish, I’d make him stay here.”