Tennessee Titans: Steve Hoffman

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ken Whisenhunt is down to two position coaching vacancies.

While they are all important, these may be the two most important: The offensive and defensive lines.

Offensive line was supposed to be rebuilt into a strength last season as the Titans signed veteran guard Andy Levitre, drafted guard Chance Warmack 10th overall and drafted center Brian Schwenke in the fourth round.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Ken Whisenhunt
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyOffensive line coach and defensive line coach will be two of Ken Whisenhunt's most critical hires.
But a rebuilt interior didn't jell quickly or play consistently even with mentoring from two Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive linemen, head coach Mike Munchak and line coach Bruce Matthews.

One of the criticism of Whisenhunt during his six years as head coach in Arizona was the Cardinals' failure to develop young offensive lineman. Another Hall of Famer, Russ Grimm, was Whisenhunt's line coach for his entire tenure in Arizona.

Grimm didn't coach in 2013, but I do not expect he will be joining the Titans' staff.

Offensive line was generally a strength for the Titans when Munchak was the position coach before he was elevated to the top job in 2011.

The Titans used to thrive on defense because they developed pass-rushers, Jevon Kearse and Albert Haynesworth, both first-round draft picks, head that list, but it also includes Kyle Vanden Bosch, a huge hit as a reclamation project.

Jim Washburn, recently retained by Detroit as the Lions' line coach, was a big part of that. Tracy Rocker followed him as Munchak's line coach, and for two years he had the assistance of Keith Millard, the team's pass-rushing coach.

The Titans really developed just one pass-rusher in that time, and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is the sort of player who I think would play well under anyone.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton will run a hybrid front that will feature 3-4 and 4-3 elements. The Titans have been a 4-3 since before the franchise relocated to Tennessee in 1997.

Whisenhunt, Horton and a new line coach will have a voice in drafting a guy – or a couple – who fit what they are looking for up front. It's imperative the team adds a quality edge pass-rusher, and the line coach Whisenhunt hires will be largely responsible for developing him.

Ron Aiken was Whisenhunt's defensive line coach for all six years in Arizona. He is now coaching the line at Oregon.

Whisenhunt is at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he is likely interviewing candidates for his remaining staff positions.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported Tuesday evening that the Titans will hire John McNulty as quarterbacks coach.

I reported early on that McNulty had an inside track on the offensive coordinator post, which wound up going to Jason Michael.

Whisenhunt's staff at this point, with holdovers in italics.

Offensive coordinator: Jason Michael
Quarterbacks: John McNulty
Running backs: Sylvester Croom
Tight ends: Mike Mularkey
Wide receivers: Shawn Jefferson

Defensive coordinator: Ray Horton
Linebackers: Lou Spanos
Secondary: Sigismondo “Louie” Cioffi
Assistant secondary: Steve Brown

Special teams: Nate Kaczor
Assistant special teams: Steve Hoffman

Strength and conditioning: Steve Watterson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans' secondary was good last year, so defensive backs coach Brett Maxie should have been retained.

[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesLet's give Ken Whisenhunt the benefit of the doubt before judging the moves he made regarding the Titans' coaching staff.
The Titans special teams were bad last year, so special teams coach Nate Kaczor and his assistant, Steve Hoffman, should not have been retained.

That's the popular thinking for at least a portion of Titans fans who are vocal on Twitter.

It's overly simplistic and incorrect.

I thought Maxie and assistant secondary coach Steve Brown did a good job last season.

Ken Whisenhunt kept Brown but let Maxie go.

Maybe he loved Maxie's work but has someone else in mind. Maybe he didn't like Maxie's work. Maybe a coaching colleague he trusts told him something about Maxie and something different about Brown. Maybe Ruston Webster gave him different reviews of the two. Maybe he's got a list of secondary coaches he covets and thinks a new guy working with a holdover will maximize the secondary's chances to do its best.

There are a number of factors that could have come into play. Whisenhunt's not going to spell them out for us.

The same is the case with regard to keeping Kaczor and Hoffman.

It's at least a partial endorsement of their work.

Tennessee's special teams were a problem last year, though things settled down when a quality returner, Leon Washington, fell into their lap late in the season.

But while those guys were heard, they weren't ultimately responsible for Darius Reynaud starting out as returner or Devon Wylie holding the job for a bit. Look higher up the Titans organizational chart for blame there -- to Mike Munchak and Webster.

As for silly, side-spinning, tee-less onside kicks ...

Perhaps Kaczor brought the idea to the table. But the head coach is the guy responsible for the team using it. Munchak, and any head coach, holds veto power and ultimate responsibility.

Whisenhunt is a smart coach who's respected around the league and arrives with six years as a head coach on his resume.

He's taken in some info and decided to keep the special teams assistants who were in place.

Rather than immediately call it a crazy move, how about we wait and see how they do given another chance?

There are good coaches who sometimes get bad results. There are bad coaches who sometimes get good results. Players are a huge variable, obviously.

The performance of the unit or position group is a factor -- Shawn Jefferson is back because he set the receivers on a good course.

It's not the only factor.




The list of assistants and their fates, per Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean:

Retained: Steve Watterson, assistant head coach/strength and conditioning; Steve Brown, assistant secondary coach; Sylvester Croom, running backs; Steve Hoffman, assistant special teams; Shawn Jefferson, wide receivers; Nate Kaczor, special teams.

Let go: Dowell Loggains, offensive coordinator; George Henshaw, tight ends; Bruce Matthews, offensive line; Chet Parlavecchio, linebackers; Dave Ragone, quarterbacks;.

Contract not renewed: Jerry Gray, defensive coordinator; Gregg Williams, senior assistant/defense; Brett Maxie, secondary; Keith Millard, pass rush; Tracy Rocker, defensive line.

TBA*: Jonathan Gannon, defensive assistant/quality control; Arthur Smith, offensive line/tight end assistant.

* Wyatt says they are retained for now, but the new offensive coordinator will have a say in what direction the team goes.

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