Tennessee Titans fire Mike Munchak: A questionable but justifiable move

Tennessee Titans

Mike Munchak (Photo credit: Associated Press)

When Mike Munchak was not among the five head coaches fired Monday, December 30, it seemed that he would keep his job as head coach of the Tennessee Titans. However, that assumption has been put to rest, as ESPN reported January 4 that Munchak has officially been cut loose.

It can be argued that Munchak did not deserve this fate, but when considering the hard facts, it’s a justifiable decision by the upper management.

In his defense, Munchak hasn’t had much time to prove himself. Although he’s been with the franchise since 1994, he was promoted from offensive line to head coach just three seasons ago, in 2011; three short years with not a lot to work with.

Munchak was dealing with a redeveloping team. He had a rookie quarterback and no elite stars; no Titans players were in the 2012 or 2013 Pro Bowl, and only one player [cornerback Alterraun Verner] was named to the 2014 Pro Bowl roster. Should-be star running back Chris Johnson has not performed at his best, nor has wide receiver Kenny Britt in recent years.  The promising young quarterback Jake Locker, after starting the 2013 season strong, was injured for most of the season. Yet Munchak was still able to lead his team to a winning record in the 2011 season [9-7], and to a 7-9 record this season, including two wins at the end and close games against some of the best teams in the league.

Furthermore, if you compare him to two of the other newly fired head coaches, Munchak’s numbers are less reprehensible.

For example, Mike Shanahan, who was fired as head coach of the Washington Redskins, has been with the franchise for four seasons, joining the team with 14 years of prior head coaching experience. The Redskins finished with losing records [6-10, 5-11] in Shanahan’s first two seasons at the helm, and despite a strong 2012 season, the team nabbed only three wins this year. A change is arguably needed.

Meanwhile in five years with the Detroit Lions, Jim Schwartz led his team to only one winning record [10-6 in 2011], and two abysmal seasons: 4-12 in 2012 and 2-14 in 2009. Schwartz had a mostly-solid quarterback to work with [Matthew Stafford, first round pick in 2009, currently an 83.1 career passer rating], the always-dominant wide receiver Calvin Johnson, and a few other top talents over the years.  Five years with a decent team and only one winning record and one lost playoff game is classifiable as an insufficient performance.

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But even though he may have had more success in less time than his peers, when it comes down to the hard facts, it is not surprising Munchak was fired as well.

As ESPN correspondent Paul Kuharsky wrote, he was unable to take the team to the playoffs “even after late owner Bud Adams signed off on free-agent contracts worth over $100 million in the spring.” Kuharsky also reported that in Munchak’s three seasons, the Titans lost to a division rival who finished with the worst record or tied for the worst record in the NFL.

Munchak hasn’t developed Jake Locker as best as the organization had hoped, he hasn’t sufficiently used Chris Johnson’s talent, and hasn’t appeared to do anything to keep Kenny Britt under control off the field. The play calling favored passing, even though the talent on the team was more suited for a run-focused strategy, and an additional strike against Munchak, considering he is a former offensive line coach, is that the offensive line has under-performed. The Titans have been plagued by offensive problems Munchak could and should have been able to limit or fix, at least to some degree.

Sports teams are a business and what makes money in that business is a long, successful season with championship/playoff victories. Munchak hasn’t achieved that, so Titans’ general manager Ruston Webster and team president and CEO Tommy Smith will search for someone who will in the 2014 season. Munchak had his success, but it wasn’t enough in the end, and it’s time for someone new to lead the Tennessee Titans.