Weidmer: Ken Whisenhunt feels right for Tennessee Titans

Weidmer: Ken Whisenhunt feels right for Tennessee Titans

January 14th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, left, walks off the field with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt after a 27-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in an NFL wild-card playoff football game on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, in Cincinnati.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Nobody beats the Wiz.

Beyond a certain "Seinfeld" episode and the former East Coast electronics chain of the same name, that's the goal of the Tennessee Titans in hiring Ken Whisenhunt to rebuild the NFL franchise.

But is Whisenhunt the best choice for that tough task? Can he reinvigorate both the players and fans? Can he take advantage of what seems to be a somewhat vulnerable AFC South?

Not to overly simpify his job, but that would seem to depend on whether he can find ways to keep quarterback Jake Locker healthy and continue to improve the fourth-year signal-caller's skill set.

Or, failing that, sever ties with Locker and find someone to capably replace the raw and rickety talent.

But that was going to be the case whomever the Titans chose to replace Mike Munchak. Like it or not, most NFL teams are only as good as their starting quarterbacks, and when Whisenhunt's QBs have been good, so have the teams he's coached as either the head man or an assistant.

Just look at his work with Philip Rivers this season as San Diego's offensive coordinator. With Rivers playing better than he has in years, the Chargers beat the Denver Broncos once in Denver and made them sweat profusely before falling in their AFC playoff game Sunday.

Of far greater import, the Bolts were fifth in the NFL in offense this season after ranking 31st a year ago.

But let's look deeper into the "Wiz" resume. Anyone with a memory longer than last week should be able to recall vividly his 2008 run to the Super Bowl as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Electing to roll the dice with aging quarterback Kurt Warner, Whisenhunt was within a minute of winning the Lombardi Trophy before a Pittsburgh Steelers touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds to go made the Cards 27-23 losers.

Yet the work Whisenhunt did with the 37-year-old Warner should not be brushed aside. He threw for 30 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions, his best stats in six years. And had the Steelers not returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown just before halftime, Arizona might well have won it all.

A Whisenhunt trick play in Super Bowl XL broke open that game for the Steelers against Seattle. Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator under Bill Cowher, the Wiz called for a wide receiver reverse pass (Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward). It remains the only TD pass thrown by a wideout in Super Bowl history.

So Whisenhunt's history as a play-caller and developer of quarterbacks is pretty good, which is a very good and important thing given the Titans' recent history of mediocre to bad QB play.

He also knows Nashville -- the Augusta, Ga., native and Georgia Tech product having once been a Vanderbilt assistant. How much that should really help the 51-year-old Eagle Scout win games is debatable, but it should help his wife, Alice, more easily navigate the Music City's pricey housing market.

And while pro coaches aren't expected to have much time for golf, if Whisenhunt needs to blow off some steam, a round or two on some of Nashville's more prestigious layouts shouldn't add to his stress. After working the 18th hole manual scoreboard at the Masters during his teenage years, he shot a 72 at Augusta National in May of 2008 that included an eagle on the par-4 11th hole.

Not to be flippant, but any NFL coach skilled enough to record a 72 at Augusta National should be able to return the Titans to the playoffs.

The doubters will say that Whisenhunt suffered more than a few double-bogeys during his final years in Arizona, including a nine-game losing skid to close out last season, his final year in the desert.

This Titans team figures to be better than that Cardinals squad if Locker continues to improve. Or maybe Whisenhunt will inform the Titans brass that the franchise needs to go a different direction at that position, which might put the future of running back Chris Johnson into play, since CJ whined last week about his best years being wasted.

And maybe that would be for the best, new beginnings for all concerned.

"I have a lot of respect for Ken as a coach and as an offensive mind," Titans general manager Ruston Webster said Monday. "The traits that stand out to me when identifying him as our next coach -- he is intelligent, has a track record with quality offenses and head coaching success."

After five straight seasons outside the playoffs, the Titans may need all that and more to return swiftly to the postseason. They need life to imitate "Seinfeld."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.