NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ken Whisenhunt is at a point in his NFL career where chemistry is really important to him, feeling comfortable with an organization.
He said Tuesday that’s a big reason why he is now the new coach of the Tennessee Titans.
Whisenhunt said he hit it off quickly with Ruston Webster when interviewing for the job Friday night. The coach also had interest from Detroit and Cleveland. The Titans also met with Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer on Monday in Houston before hiring Whisenhunt.
The Titans introduced Whisenhunt on Tuesday as their 17th head coach and only their third different coach since moving to Tennessee in 1997. Webster called it a new day toward creating a new culture.
“I felt great about Ruston, about that working relationship, and I have tremendous confidence in Mr. (Tommy) Smith and he wants to win,” Whisenhunt said of the Titans’ president and chief executive officer. “And I’m excited about that.”
Webster said it was a fast and furious process picking a new coach after parting with Mike Munchak on Jan. 4.
The general manager believes Whisenhunt is an excellent fit for the Titans and to create a new culture around the organization. Tennessee is coming off a 7-9 record and is 36-44 over the past five seasons since the Titans’ last playoff appearance.
ESPN.com reported the Titans offered Whisenhunt $1 million more a year than the Detroit Lions. Neither Whisenhunt, Webster nor Smith would comment when asked how long the new coach’s contract is.
“A recruiting pitch wasn’t necessarily needed there,” Webster said of landing Whisenhunt. “It was just more about … talking football and philosophy and direction, and I do think we bring a lot to the table with this team and this city. There is a lot to sell here.”
There’s also several questions to be answered, including whether Jake Locker has competition for the Titans’ starting quarterback job and Chris Johnson’s future with the team.
The Chargers lost in the playoffs Sunday in Denver, and Whisenhunt said he hasn’t had a chance to study either Locker or Johnson. The running back is due $8 million in 2014 after averaging a career-worst 3.9 yards per carry, while Locker has missed 14 of 32 starts since the eighth overall draft selection was named Tennessee’s starting quarterback.
Whisenhunt said he liked Locker coming out of college in 2011 and he tries to put players in position to succeed.
Asked if the Titans would consider using the 11th overall draft pick in May on another quarterback, Whisenhunt gave a glimpse of the relationship he expects with his general manager by saying Webster would take the best player available. Webster helped draft Locker, who is under contract for 2014.
“I think that’s something we’ll continue to discuss and go through,” Webster said. “But I would anticipate Jake having a good chance to do that.”
Whisenhunt has a solid track record of getting the most out of quarterbacks.
The 51-year-old is 49-53 overall as a head coach, all in six seasons at Arizona where he took the Cardinals to their only Super Bowl berth in 2009 with Kurt Warner. He won consecutive NFC West titles in 2008 and 2009, and his offense in 2008 ranked fourth in the NFL.
He started his coaching career with Vanderbilt in 1995 before going to the NFL in 1997 coaching tight ends for Baltimore. He coached special teams with Cleveland in 1999 and tight ends with the Jets in 2000 before going to Pittsburgh where the Steelers won a Super Bowl in his second season as offensive coordinator working with Ben Roethlisberger.
Whisenhunt spent the past year in San Diego as offensive coordinator with the Chargers gaining the fifth-most yards in the NFL, while Philip Rivers matched his career-high passer rating helping burnish the coach’s reputation for his work with quarterbacks.
The new coach has to fill his coaching staff, and he said he has no agreements with any assistants yet. He plans to meet with the remaining Titans’ assistants still under contract. John McNulty appears to be a top candidate as his offensive coordinator, though Whisenhunt said he plans to call plays himself unless told he can’t.
Smith certainly sounds ready to watch Whisenhunt call offensive plays for Tennessee.
“The fact he’s going to be the play caller delights me,” the Titans president said.