Whisenhunt working quickly to build Titans’ coaching staff

New Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt (center) led the Arizona Cardinals to the franchise's first Super Bowl six seasons ago.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt is going with what he knows.

Of the staffing hires, including defensive coordinator John Horton and offensive coordinator Jason Michael, each has a previous working relationship with Whisenhunt, most recently the Chargers’ offensive coordinator after serving as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals (2007-12).

Whisenhunt also retained eight Titans assistants from Mike Munchak’s tenure, before getting fired a few weeks ago.

"e are looking for good football coaches," Whisenhunt said, "and I know there are some good coaches on this staff, but there are also some good coaches that I hope I get the opportunity to speak to."

As the Browns’ defensive coordinator (2011-13), Horton served in a similar role for two years under Whisenhunt at Arizona. He has 20 years of combined coaching experience, including being defensive backs coach for the Steelers from 2004-10. From 2004-06, Whisenhunt was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

While Whisenhunt wants to run a basic 3-4 defensive alignment, he also said that flexibility is important in blending with 4-3 looks, as well.

"Defensively, there is a misconception, I think, about the 3-4 and the 4-3," Whisenhunt said. "Seventy percent of this game now is in sub-defense, which is four-down, three-down, and you are using both components when you do that.

"I know this as an offensive coach: When you are preparing for a 4-3 and a 3-4, it is very difficult because of protection issues. You have to have elements of both of them."

And that’s what attracted Whisenhunt to Horton to run his defense.

"Scheme-wise, one of the most impressive things about Ray is his flexibility," Whisenhunt said of Horton, a 1983 Bengals draft pick (Round 2) and 10-year NFL veteran at safety. For the Bengals (1983-88) and Cowboys (1989-92), Horton played 147 games, starting 99, and finished with 19 interceptions.

"He has the ability to go between a 4-3 and 3-4 and put our players in the best position to succeed," Whisenhunt added. "It has been evident by what he has done and where his defenses have ranked in the league over the last few years."

On average, the Browns surrendered only 332 total yards per game this season, under Horton’s direction.

Horton is on the same page as Whisenhunt when it comes to running various defensive schemes.

"As for our defensive system, I have said from Day 1 that I don’t coach a particular alignment," said Horton, who played in Super Bowls for Cincinnati and Dallas. "I coach men who want to get after it, and we will play physical and fundamentally sound.

"We will do whatever suits the men that I coach and whatever the Tennessee Titans can do best."

As for offensive coordinator, Whisenhunt worked last season at the Chargers with Michael (tight ends coach — 2011-13). Before that, Michael was offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach for the 49ers from 2009-10. He was tight ends coach in 2008 at the University of Tennessee, where he started coaching as a graduate assistant in 2004.

While Whisenhunt runs the offense and calls plays during the game, Michael’s role will be more involved with game-planning and player development.

"(Michael) is very familiar with the offensive system that we want to implement here, which includes bits and pieces from a number of offensive systems," Whisenhunt said.

Michael quarterbacked Western Kentucky to the NCAA I-AA national championship in 2002. His coach was Jack Harbaugh, father of 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and Ravens coach Jon Harbaugh.

"In the one year working with (Whisenhunt), I learned a great deal and we worked really well together," Michael said. "His ability to create an offense that is built around the strengths of the players led to success for us in San Diego, and it will be fun to come there and create an offense that is built around a new group of players."

Other new staff members:

Louie Cioffi, defensive backs: Working under Horton as Browns defensive backs coach (2013), Cioffi accepts a similar position with the Titans. From 2011-12, he was defensive backs coach under Whisenhunt at Arizona.

"As a (defensive backs) coach, I see myself as a teacher," said Cioffi, an assistant with the Bengals from 1997-2010. "I want to make sure players understand the expectations, hold them accountable and put them into positions to succeed. We will be fundamentally sound, play physical and with good technique."

Lou Spanos, linebackers: Before spending the last two seasons as UCLA’s defensive coordinator under coach Jim Mora Jr., Spanos spent 17 years coaching in the NFL. That includes 15 with the Steelers from 1995-2009, when he was a staff mate with Whisenhunt (2001-06).

"In his extended time in Pittsburgh working with (defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau," Whisenhunt said, "he gained a tremendous amount of experience and contributed to some of the best defensive teams in the league."

Mike Mularkey, tight ends: The Titans are reportedly expected to hire the former Bills (2005-05) and Jaguars (2004-05) head coach, in the dual role of coaching tight ends and assisting in offensive game-planning.

Mularkey was offensive coordinator for the Steelers from 2001-03, when Whisenhunt was tight ends coach for Bill Cowher.

Recent Tampa Bay quarterbacks coach John McNulty, who worked for Whisenhunt as quarterbacks (2012) and wide receivers (2009-11) coach at Arizona, could also join the staff as QB coach. He was also considered a candidate for offensive coordinator.

Titans holdovers rehired to Whisenhunt’s new staff include Shawn Jefferson (wide receivers) Sylvester Croom (running backs), Nate Kaczor (special teams), Steve Hoffman (special teams assistant), Steve Brown (secondary assistant) and Steve Watterson (strength and conditioning), who has been with the team since 1986.

Also expected to be retained are Arthur Smith (offensive line/tight ends assistant) and Jonathan Gannon (defensive assistant/quality control).

Despite having time remaining on their contracts with the Titans, five assistants — Dowell Loggains (offensive coordinator), Bruce Matthews (offensive line), Dave Ragone (quarterbacks), George Henshaw (tight ends) and Chet Parlavecchio (linebackers) — were not retained.

Other assistants not returning include: Jerry Gray (defensive coordinator), Tracy Rocker (defensive line), Gregg Williams (senior assistant/defense), Brett Maxie (defensive backs) and Keith Millard (defensive assistant/pass rush).

Whisenhunt has been named 2013 Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America.

San Diego’s offense finished fifth in the NFL in yards per game (393.3) and fourth in passing yards (270.5). The Chargers lost to the Broncos in the divsional playoff round.

"I am grateful for the opportunity that the Chargers organization and (team president) Dean Spanos gave me," said Whisenhunt, who played a key role in re-energizing Chargers QB Philip Rivers (4,478 yards passing, 32 TDs). "It was exciting to be a part of the success we had last year."

Carolina’s Ron Rivera was named Coach of the Year, while Kansas City general manager John Dorsey was named Executive of the Year.