Tennessee general manager Ruston Webster thinks Mike Munchak helped the franchise that drafted him back in 1982 through a challenging time through three seasons as head coach.
Unfortunately for Munchak, loyalty to the NFL team with which he spent 31 seasons just wasn’t enough anymore.
The Titans fired Munchak on Saturday after spending the past week talking about changes needed for a franchise that has not reached the playoffs since 2008 and last won a postseason game in January 2003.
“In the end, we were not able to agree just on the future or the direction of the franchise, and I felt it was time to make a change,” Webster said at a news conference. “We move ahead into the next phase of the Tennessee Titans and look for the next coach, and also looking for great things.”
Munchak became the seventh NFL coach fired. He said in a statement issued through the team that he had hoped this day would never come and that he couldn’t express his sadness at leaving a franchise he had been with for more than 30 years.
“My goal as head coach was to do things the right way with the right people, and I felt confident that the results would follow,” Munchak said. “Sometimes rebuilding a team and its culture takes time, but I truly believe we were on the verge of great things. Unfortunately, my vision did not match that of the organization, so we will part ways.”
Webster now has to oversee this franchise’s first coaching search since February 2011 when Munchak was promoted and only the second since this franchise left Texas for Tennessee in 1997.
Munchak flew to Texas on Friday morning to meet with team president and CEO Tommy Smith and Webster. They returned late in the afternoon. Smith said in a statement that those talks continued into Saturday before the decision to let Munchak go.
“Ultimately, we decided it was best to move in different directions,” Smith said. “As I told him, we appreciate his efforts as head coach and I think he helped us progress as a team.”
Munchak had a season left on his contract and was 22-26 overall. He had been with this franchise since 1982 when the then-Houston Oilers made him a first-round draft pick, and he joined the coaching staff as an assistant the year after he retired.
The Titans made Munchak their 16th head coach when late owner Bud Adams promoted him after firing Jeff Fisher. But Munchak’s first offseason was wiped out by the NFL lockout before his only winning season at 9-7. He went 6-10 after the second offseason was chewed up when Adams ordered his front office to chase Peyton Manning.
Adams spent more than $100 million this past offseason to restock the Titans’ roster and made it clear he wanted a playoff berth. That spending spree landed 13 new free agents, along with seven draft picks making the roster. Smith, Adams’ son-in-law, was named president and CEO a week after Adams died in October.
The Titans went 7-9 losing six games by one possession and also won six games decided by a possession. They also dropped eight of 10 games in one stretch, including five straight at home, with fans showing their displeasure by staying away by the thousands. That didn’t change in the season finale with Smith watching even as the Titans beat Houston 16-10.
Webster, who praised Munchak’s professionalism, said the decision was shared by telephone Saturday.
“He was a bridge between having a long tenured coach that had just left, and things had been done a certain way, and an older owner who in his tenure passed away,” said Webster, promoted to general manager in January 2012. “I think we’ve been in a pretty major transition and he was part of that. He’s actually made the place better.”
Munchak had made it clear over the past couple of weeks that he thought having quarterback Jake Locker available for all 16 games likely would have been the difference in the two or three wins needed to earn this franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008.
Webster wouldn’t comment when asked if Munchak wanted an extension past 2014, and changes to the coaching staff likely was another issue.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and senior assistant coach for defense Gregg Williams both have expiring contracts, and special teams had problems on kick and punt returns until the team signed Leon Washington late. Munchak also promoted an old friend, Chet Parlavecchio, already on his staff as linebackers coach for 2013, and a young group featuring Zach Brown, Colin McCarthy and Akeem Ayers struggled most of the season.
Asked if Munchak had been asked to fire six assistants as a condition to stay, Webster called that a “big number.”
Left guard Andy Levitre, who signed as a free agent in March to play for Munchak, wrote on Twitter: “Unfortunate to hear the news about Coach Munchak. Couldn’t be more thankful 4 him giving me this opportunity in Nashville. Wish him the best.”
AP freelancer Terry McCormick contributed to this report from Nashville, Tenn.
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