Check Yo Self – Have I Been Fair to Mike Munchak?

Check Yo Self  “Ice Cube”

I have written a lot about the current state of Mike Munchak’s job status and his tenure as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. Clearly this is a key year for Munchak who suffered through a disappointing 6-10 season with the Titans in 2012 that was topped off by embarrassing losses to the Minnesota Vikings (30-7), Chicago Bears (51-20) and Green Bay Packers (55-7). They say time heals all wounds but that last one was particularly bad since I had the pleasure (or maybe misfortune) to see it in person.

Recently, I began to think about Munchak’s status and whether *I* have unfairly criticized him and whether the ‘hot seat” status I have placed on him is unfair. To be fair, I do think Munchak simply has to produce better in 2013. Munchak is signed through 2014 but the lesser of two evils beyond firing is to be on “lame duck” status. I’m certain Munchak would prefer to have the type of season that owner Bud Adams views extension worthy. The definition of what season justifies an extension might be debatable but clearly being in the playoff hunt is mandatory.

Part of the genesis of this blog arose out of my look at the last 3 years of the Titans draft picks under former head coach Jeff Fisher and my comparison of the 2011 and 2012 drafts under current coach Mike Munchak. Then I considered the circumstances leading up to Munchak’s ascension to the head coaching position and questions arose. I truly do try to be as fair as possible and I now wonder if perhaps i have been unfair.

PULL MY FINGER I DARE YOU

Munchak, who had never been more than offensive line coach for the Titans, was elevated to head coach on February 7, 2011. The Titans had parted ways with former head coach Jeff Fisher on January 27, 2011 after what can only be described as a turbulent offseason that also led to the departure of former first round pick and Bud Adams’ “golden boy” Vince Young on January 5, 2011. Adams had only recently committed to Fisher coaching out the final year of his contract after apparently winning out an internal battle between Fisher and Young. I won’t go into the details of their troubled relationship as they are readily available and widely known.

My point is that Munchak essentially took over a franchise that was clearly fractured, in disarray and in badly need of a makeover. Munchak himself apparently believed change was necessary in his first presser. The new regime took over just two months away from the 2011 draft with no franchise quarterback and badly in need of a plan. The harsh reality is that change rarely happens overnight and Munchak inherited a team with a lot of issues. The Titans would select Jake Locker with the #8 overall selection and sign veteran Matt Hasselbeck. They also added safety Jordan Babineaux. Otherwise, the free agent signings had very little impact. Amazingly, that team would finish 9-7 in what can only be considered an overachieving year characterized by excellent play overall from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

The 2012 offseason was dominated by the competition between incumbent quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and 2011 first round draft pick Jake Locker. The Titans were looking to improve on 2011 and added another solid draft class. They also signed defensive end Kamerion Wimbley and left guard Steve Hutchinson. The other free agent signings during the 2012 offseason had very little impact. The Titans would finish 2012 with a 6 and 10 record.

Look, I am not going to excuse the Titans performance in 2012 and I have discussed a lot of the reasons why the team under-performed elsewhere but geez Louise if it go could wrong it did for the Titans. An offensive line that has been long overrated (at least in the interior) was decimated by injuries and the safety position was a hot mess caused in large part by the coaching staff. On top of that quarterback Jake Locker hurt his left and non-throwing shoulder in the first game and would later suffer re-injury to the same shoulder and miss the bulk of the middle of the season. On his return, he was faced with a patchwork offensive line that left him in large part running for his life.

Having said that, that overrated offensive line was a product of Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews. While Rome wasn’t built in a day the free agent signings to date haven’t made a big impact, and the players Munchak has played since taking over as head coach have largely been draft picks and players from the Fisher era. How long should it take to do a complete team makeover? That is the question I am currently pondering.

You often hear the media and fans talk about letting college football coaches “build a roster” suited to their style before judging their performance. The average seems to be between 3 to 5 years. The extent to which that happens in reality is debatable for certain but the concept is surely there. Here is some more reality in that most teams that are fractured the way the Titans were rarely recover quickly and usually it takes exceptional circumstances for it to happen.

Look, we know the NFL is a results driven league. However, Munchak is entering his 3rd year as head coach of the Tennessee Titans and generally speaking the first year you expect a coach to field a team with the majority of his hand picked players. While certainly a key year for Munchak and the Titans, should this year make or break his tenure as head coach? This is the question I am currently pondering.

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