One of the hottest head-coaching candidates in the NFL just pulled a surprise.
Ken Whisenhunt, whose playoff run is less than 24 hours old, has settled on a new team to be its head coach, per ESPN's Chris Mortensen. And it's not the team many people expected.
Whisenhunt to Titans; Jim Caldwell emerges w Lions. Mike Munchak still alive with Detroit & Cleveland, sources via @AdamSchefter & me
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 13, 2014
The Titans made the decision on Tuesday. They had a final interview with Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who was the runner-up for the job, and settled on Whisenhunt.
Half the betting world expected Whisenhunt to take what many people believed to be the most choice NFL gig out there, that of the Detroit Lions. Apparently, Whisenhunt disagreed with that assessment. Although he talked in depth with the Lions about their open position, it was not his pick when the red carpet was rolled out for him, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
So the Titans — with an unsettled front office and ownership, no clear-cut quarterback of the future and an unhappy Chris Johnson — are the team that Whisenhunt chose. It's a fascinating situation, clearly, that resonates through the rest of the league. This is a massive win for a team that appears solid defensively and has had good support when it has been competitive, but the Titans have been wading around the .500 mark for the past five seasons since they last made the playoffs in 2008.
And what does this say of the Lions' gig? Jim Caldwell might be a fine fallback option, or perhaps Mike Munchak, with both having been former head coaches with solid resumés. However, the fact that Whisenhunt turned down the chance to coach a franchise-caliber quarterback, the best wide receiver in the game and other talented parts — seemingly more talented than the team he picked — is quite alarming to say the least.
The remaining teams looking for a head coach are the Lions, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings.
Whisenhunt was a highly successful offensive coordinator this season with the Chargers, helping revive Philip Rivers' career, and previously with the Pittsburgh Steelers, with whom he won a Super Bowl. He also made a Super Bowl in between those jobs as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, of whom he became the winningest coach all time with a mark of 45-51 in six seasons from 2007 to 2012. But in those six seasons, he had only two losing records and made the playoffs twice.
What does this mean for Johnson or Jake Locker? Too early to tell on either one. But both positions are likely to see some new faces for sure. Whisenhunt might like Locker, but the Cardinals did draft Patrick Peterson ahead of Locker in 2012, for what it's worth.
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