NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Not nearly like clockwork but consistent nonetheless since end of the regular season, the Tennessee Titans have opened the door and shown four assistant coaches and their front-office leader the way out.
Exodus from head coach Mike Munchak’s staff actually started before season’s end. In late November, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was fired with five games remaining.
Since the disappointing 6-10 season ended with a home win over Jacksonville, Munchak also pink-slipped Alan Lowry, the 17-year Oilers/Titans assistant and special teams coach, linebackers coach Frank Bush, running backs coach Jim Skipper and tight ends coach John Zernhelt.
None of the four firings has been acknowledged by the Titans — by press release, on the official website posting or in a direct comment from Munchak or other Titans officials. The Titans’ website still list each assistant on staff as late as Wednesday afternoon. A Titans official said Wednesday that Munchak would address the media once staff changes are complete.
But each fired coach acknowledged the Munchak move and were collectively surprised, especially Lowry, architect of the Music City Miracle — the memorable throwback lateral play which delivered a wild-card playoff victory in early 2000 over Buffalo.
Equal in surprise was Titans owner Bud Adams coming out of left field to fire senior vice president and chief operating officer Mike Reinfeldt, the former general manager who was given the reins last year to run both the football and business sides of the Titans.
There are those who think Adams had Reinfeldt in his sights long before the Titans couldn’t improve on last season’s 9-7 record in the debut season for Munchak, the celebrated Oilers/Titans offensive guard and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee who later became known for churning out great offensive lineman as position coach with the team.
Adams gave Reinfeldt the green light to open the bank to sign Peyton Manning, who reportedly took less money to sign with Denver. Did Reinfeldt slow play the move while thinking the Titans were fine at quarterback with former first-round pick and heir apparent Jake Locker and solid backup Matt Hasselbeck?
Or maybe Adams perused the Titans roster that Reinfeldt assembled and didn’t see a player on the AFC Pro Bowl roster. Two-time AFC South champion Houston Texans, on the other hand, had eight selected. Thus, the divide between the top and near-bottom of a division that also had an Indianapolis uprising behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
That leaves football operations to Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster, who replaced Reinfeldt at GM and has worked his way through the ranks to earn the opportunity, even with the lack of experience at the top notwithstanding.
Just this week, special advisor Tom Moore, the former Colts offensive coordinator and Manning confidante, said his short tenure with the Titans had ended. He came to consult the team’s offense when quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains was given the interim tag to replace Palmer.
Moore said this week that even at the spry age of 74, he still wanted an offensive coordinator job, and there isn’t one with the Titans. By the way, there’s one now open in Denver with Manning.
With a slew of offensive coordinator candidates on the market qualified as recently as being NFL head coaches, it will be a leap of faith to go with Loggains, considering Munchak is entering the third year of a four-year deal and still stinging from Adams’ comments concerning direction of the team.
Still to come for Munchak is the decision on defensive coordinator Jerry Gray, if it hasn’t already been made. The Titans defense was blistered early but steadily improved throughout the season. Not returning to the defensive staff will be Bush, the former Texans defensive coordinator and former Oilers teammate of Munchak.
Under Bush, linebacking was one of the better units this season, even with second-year middle linebacker and emerging leader Colin McCarthy missing nine games with an injury and concussion symptoms. On the outside, second-year Akeem Ayers led the team in tackles, while rookie Zach Brown had 93 tackles and three interceptions.
Firing Lowry startled many, especially because Titans special teams were solid again this season. Three punts and a kickoff were returned for touchdowns, and the team was seventh in the NFL in net punt-return yardage.
Coming soon, there will be the decision whether to pay running back Chris Johnson a $9 million bonus of the $10 million he is due for next season. If they cut Johnson, they can save the money and cap space.
That decision must come within five days after the Feb. 3 Super Bowl. But the Titans have said they will move forward with Johnson as their guy, mainly because they will still be under the salary cap even after paying him. Knucklehead watch
In the knucklehead section of team activities, oft-injured lead receiver Kenny Britt was dealing once again with legal issues stemming from a visit back home this past weekend in New Jersey.
In what is now his ninth run-in with the law since being the team’s first-round draft pick in 2009, Britt reportedly drove a stabbed friend to the hospital from a party, then later returned to the party where a gun was fired, and didn’t cooperate with police until a few days later.
Britt and his attorney met with Jersey City police on Wednesday, and the police later said Britt was not a suspect in either the stabbing or shooting.
This past season, Britt served an NFL-imposed one-game suspension after his arrest for DUI while trying to enter the Fort Campbell Army Base at nearby Clarksville, Tenn.