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VOL. 131 | NO. 161 | Friday, August 12, 2016

Whisenhunt Might Not Recognize These Titans

TERRY McCORMICK, Nashville Sports Correspondent

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Welcome back, Ken Whisenhunt. You’ve only been gone a few months, but you might not recognize many things about your old workplace when you arrive Saturday night.

Call it a cruel twist of fate, irony or whatever you please, but the very man who personified and spearheaded the Titans’ recent failures will be on the sideline at Nissan Stadium when the Titans open the preseason.

Former Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt, left, talks with current head coach Mike Mularkey before a 2014 game against Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Whisenhunt returns as offensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, the same job he held when then-CEO Tommy Smith tapped him to lead the Titans in 2014.

Since Whisenhunt’s unceremonious dismissal in the middle of last year, following a 3-20 record as head coach, the Titans have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from his regime.

To say that all the changes and upgrades have come about as a response to Whisenhunt would be unfair. Many of the changes – renovated locker room, new practice bubble and even the facelift given to Nissan Stadium – were long overdue. The ascent of a new era with GM Jon Robinson, head coach Mike Mularkey and new controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk just made the timing right for makeovers.

When Smith brought Whisenhunt on board two years ago, he essentially handed him the keys to the franchise. After a season-opening win in Kansas City in 2014, it seemed like the right move.

But that quickly became a false positive as the Titans won just one more game the rest of the way.

All the while, Whisenhunt remained distant and aloof, seeming to go out of his way not to be accommodating and mostly declining to build any goodwill with fans, the media or his players.

That approach isn’t foreign to the football world. Many coaches, including Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells and Nick Saban, have operated that way for years. But that approach doesn’t work well or for very long when you don’t win.

Fast forward to now. While the proof will be in how the Titans do on the field, it is safe to say the organization is healthier than at any time in Whisenhunt’s tenure. Players won’t say it on the record, but an unrest bubbled in the locker room and they appear glad to have moved past the previous two years.

Mularkey, who was on Whisenhunt’s staff and counts himself as a close friend, went out of his way to institute a number of changes to better accommodate the players without compromising his expectations.

He promised to better protect the quarterback (no more single blocking J.J. Watt with the likes of Will Svitek), and the team is buying in to his “exotic smashmouth” philosophy in a way they never did with Whiz.

And Whisenhunt seems to genuinely care about the players, while cherishing a coaching opportunity he never thought would arrive, given his past tenures in Buffalo and Jacksonville.

Mularkey’s ideas are fortified by Robinson and the makeover he has quickly put in to motion inside St. Thomas Sports Park.

Robinson, during a recent conversation at practice, spoke of having to “change the culture” in the Titans’ organization. That was a culture that over the years ranged from too relaxed under Jeff Fisher and Mike Munchak to too hostile on Whisenhunt’s watch.

The result was a fall from the ranks of mediocrity into the abyss at the bottom of the NFL.

Though the Titans’ foundation had been eroding for years, Whisenhunt had, by the end, become the face of much of that failure.

So as the Titans begin their journey back from the abyss, they need only to look across the field to the other sideline in case they need a quick reminder from whence they came and why they don’t want to return.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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