NASHVILLE — Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak fired offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger and two other assistants in starting to remake his staff a day after taking over the top job.
Heimerdinger, who is continuing cancer treatment after being diagnosed in November, confirmed Tuesday to The Associated Press that he had been let go. The Titans released a statement a couple of hours later that Munchak also told defensive assistant Rayna Stewart and offensive assistant Richie Wessman that they will not be retained.
"It's never easy to be fired," Heimerdinger said. "He has to do what's good for the Titans, and Munch will do what's best for the Titans. I appreciate my time here, but it's never easy to be fired."
The Titans gave Munchak the freedom to keep or hire anyone he wants, and he promised changes when he was introduced Monday. He let go the coordinator who was the second coach interviewed to replace Jeff Fisher. Munchak said it wasn't an easy move involving a man he respects as an innovative offensive mind and for how he has fought cancer.
"We have worked well through the years, but I believe we need to go in a different direction at offensive coordinator," Munchak said. "This wasn't about his health — he is feeling good — it is a change of direction for us. This is not something that I take lightly, and I wish him and his family the best."
The Titans also defended themselves for firing a man with cancer. Senior executive vice president Steve Underwood said in the team's statement that the Titans immediately offered to extend Heimerdinger's contract when he was diagnosed. Heimerdinger was under contract for 2011.
"We will honor Mike's existing agreement with our club and continue to wish him a complete recovery," Underwood said.
This gives Munchak eight openings to fill on his coaching staff. Fisher had fired defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil last month, and the defensive line coach, running backs coach and wide receivers assistant all left for other jobs. Former teammate Bruce Matthews, now an assistant in Houston, is expected to be Munchak's top target to fill his old job with the offensive line.
The news brought almost instant reaction Tuesday.
Titans safety Michael Griffin wrote on Twitter that, "People thought it was a joke when I said no one is safe."
Heimerdinger helped Steve McNair earn NFL co-MVP honors in 2003 and was part of three playoff teams in a five-year stint with the Titans before leaving for the same job with the Jets in 2005. Fisher brought him back in 2008 after two seasons in Denver.
The Titans racked up the second-most yards rushing in franchise history in 2009 when Chris Johnson set the NFL record for yards from scrimmage with 2,509 while earning the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
Heimerdinger kept coaching and didn't miss a game after being diagnosed with a rare cancer the day before Thanksgiving. Fisher extended his coordinator's contract before the season ended, and Heimerdinger said Tuesday his health played no role in the decision with his prognosis good even with two rounds of treatment remaining.
"This is strictly Munch thinks this is best for the Titans," Heimerdinger said.
The Titans' offense struggled in 2010, ranking 27th in the NFL in total yards per game (302.1) and 25th in yards passing (194.2). Johnson couldn't help the rushing attack much with just 107.9 yards averaged per game (17th overall).
Worst, the Titans rank last in time of possession, holding the ball just 25 minutes, 54 seconds per game. Tennessee was limited by injuries at quarterback, including the season-ending thumb injury to Vince Young on Nov. 21.
Asked about his offensive philosophy Monday, Munchak said the Titans have to stay on the field no matter what they do on offense.
"We struggled last year to stay on the field as an offense," Munchak said. "I'm stating the obvious. But we need to find a way — whatever that offense is, whatever that system is — we have to make first downs and stay out there."