NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Following the 2013 season, when the Tennessee Titans and Mike Munchak couldn’t reach an agreement for him to remain the team's coach and he was fired, the franchise set out on a search.
Ken Whisenhunt was the selection of Tommy Smith, the team president and CEO at the time. The son-in-law of the late Bud Adams, who founded the franchise, Smith was the first person the family put forth to head up the new ownership group.
Six other head coaches were hired at the start of 2014, and they’ve all outlasted Whisenhunt, who was fired after seven games in his second season.
Three of those were in the mix in Tennessee.
On Nov. 2, Whisenhunt didn’t know he was holding his final press conference as Titans coach. I asked him why other second-year coaches were faring better at that stage.
"Have you looked at their rosters?” he asked. “Have you looked at their situations?"
Each team has its own circumstances, of course. But based on their work elsewhere, we can imagine how they might have been doing with the Titans and see where those teams are 26 games into the tenure of the coach they chose to hire.
None of them looks to be in line to join the Titans after the 2015 season ends.
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
So far: 14-12
Zimmer was in play for the Titans, and hindsight indicates he would have been the best choice. The Vikings were 7-9 in Zimmer’s first year, led by rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. A no-nonsense personality rooted in defense, Zimmer hired a historically solid offensive coordinator in Norv Turner and now has his team tied for the third-best record in the NFC at 7-3, just a tie-breaker behind the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North.
Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
So far: 14-12
He was the primary target of the Texans and he left Penn State to go to Houston. He was already in place with the Texans by the time the Titans and Munchak parted ways. A year earlier, he talked with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles but decided to stay in State College for at least one more year. The Texans were 9-7 in his first season despite quarterback issues. Those still aren’t resolved, but the Texans’ defense has found its footing and the team has fought back from a 1-4 start to level off at 5-5, which has them even with the Indianapolis Colts but down a head-to-head tie-breaker.
Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions
So far: 14-12
Whisenhunt ultimately chose between Detroit and Tennessee, and the day after he joined the Titans the Lions hired Caldwell. He was also in the running for the Titans. In his first season, Detroit went 11-5 in 2014 and was an NFC Wild Card entry, losing at Dallas in the first round. But the strength of the team Caldwell inherited from Jim Schwartz, the defensive front, was dismantled in free agency as Ndamukong Suh jumped to Miami and Nick Fairley went to St. Louis. The Lions started Caldwell’s second season 0-5 and 1-7. The team fired president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew Nov. 5 and has since won two in a row. Caldwell interviewed with the Titans in 2014. New Lions president Ron Wood has said a new GM will determine Caldwell’s future.
Mike Pettine, Cleveland Browns
So far: 9-17
The Browns were the last of the seven teams with a vacancy to make a hire, taking eight days longer than anyone else. They had a lengthy search before choosing their third coach in three years following Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski. They ultimately landed on Pettine, who had been working as defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. Of Pettine’s nine wins at the helm of Cleveland, two came against Whisenhunt’s Titans.
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
So far: 8-18
Gruden was in the mix for the Titans, but Washington hired him four days before Smith made his move in Tennessee. Washington managed only four wins in Gruden’s first season as he and the franchise struggled to sort through things with quarterback Robert Griffin III. This year, the quarterback has not played while the team has posted a 4-6 record with Kirk Cousins as the signal-caller.
Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
So far: 7-19
The Bucs pounced on Smith, who was out of the league in 2013 after spending 2004-12 coaching the Chicago Bears, just five days after their season ended. He had a previous link to Tampa Bay, as he was an assistant with the Buccaneers from 1996 to 2000. Smith’s team lost by 28 points to Whisenhunt’s team on opening day this season. But since then, the Bucs have recovered from 1-3 to get to 5-5.