NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Tennessee Titans have hired Ken Whisenhunt as head coach, the team has confirmed. Whisenhunt replaces Mike Munchak, who was fired after posting a 22-26 record in three seasons with the team, including going 7-9 in 2013.
Titans general manager Ruston Webster interviewed Whisenhunt, most recently the San Diego Chargers’ offensive coordinator, on Friday in San Diego. After the Chargers lost to the Denver Broncos in the NFL playoffs’ divisional round on Sunday, the Titans were allowed by league rules to offer Whisenhunt the job.
"I have a lot of respect for Ken as a coach and as an offensive mind," Webster said in a statement. "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."
This past season, Whisenhunt helped guide the Chargers (10-8) into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. He was instrumental in the resurgence of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who finished the season passing for 4,478 yards and 32 touchdowns, both the second-best marks of his 10-year career, and equaling a career-best 105.5 rating.
A news conference introducing Whisenhunt as Titans head coach has been planned for Tuesday at the team facility.
He was not immediately available for comment.
"I really enjoyed our meeting on Friday night in San Diego," Webster said, "and we share similar philosophies about the game. Additionally, we have several mutual colleagues that have spoken highly to me about Ken both as a coach and as a person. I am excited about Ken joining us and the future of the Titans."
Before joining the Chargers this season, Whisenhunt was head coach of the Arizona Cardinals from 2007-12. During that time, he won a franchise-record 49 games, including a 4-2 postseason record. He guided the Cardinals to a Super Bowl berth after they won a team-record 12 regular-season games in 2008.
Prior to becoming Arizona’s head coach, Whisenhunt spent 10 seasons as NFL assistant coach. He was offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004-06, helping the team win the Super Bowl following the 2005 season. He was also tight ends coach for Pittsburgh (2001-03), New York Jets (2000) and Baltimore (1997-98), as well as special teams coach for Cleveland (1999).
"This is a big day for this franchise," Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith said of naming Whisenhunt the franchise’s 17th head coach. "Ken is a well-respected coach in this league and I am looking forward to seeing his vision become reality for this team. He has a history of building successful offenses and took Arizona to a Super Bowl as a head coach.
"We all share a common goal for this team and that is to build a consistent winner. I want to thank Ruston for his hard work in the process and the quality candidates that he brought in for interviews."
Webster also interviewed three other candidates — Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who became head coach of the Washington Redskins, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Ravens offensive coordinator Mike Caldwell. Other possible candidates included Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. They could have been interviewed by Webster while Seattle was still alive in the playoffs, but they could not have been offered the job until the season ended. On Sunday, the Seahawks host the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Whisenhunt comes from an offensive background, including his work with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and potential Hall of Famer Kurt Warner on his two separate Super Bowl runs. Webster had previously said he had no preference as to which side of the ball — offense or defense — the new head coach specialized. But he also wanted to make sure the coach paid particular attention to the opposite side of the ball from his area of expertise.
"I think it is important to me that that person has a system that he believes in and that we can draft and sign players to that system," Webster said.
The Titans have starting quarterback Jake Locker returning in 2014 for a fourth season. The 2011 first-round draft pick (No. 8 overall) missed nine games last season and five in 2012, his first year as starter, because of various injuries.
"I’m a fan of Jake’s and would love to see him have success here," Webster said of Locker, who guided the Titans to a 3-1 start this season before missing two games to a shoulder injury. He missed the last seven games with a foot injury that required surgery.
Whisenhunt had a nine-year NFL career playing tight end for Atlanta (1985-88), Washington (1989-90) and the Jets (1991-93). A 12th-round draft pick of the Falcons in 1985, he played in 74 games and caught 62 passes for 601 yards and six touchdowns.
The Titans missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year in 2013. Reversing that trend will be priority No. 1 for the franchise’s newest head coach.