Let’s get one thing clear: this doesn’t count as a rant. It’s only a rant if I typed “Win or your fired.” This piece points out that Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak must end his failures against AFC South rivals. There’s no time to spare. It must start in Week 11.
Munchak is in his third season as head coach. His 19-22 career record isn’t awful. Former head coach Jeff Fisher didn’t have his first winning campaign until his fifth full season. After a 1-5 stint as an interim head coach, Fisher’s first four seasons were all 7-9 or 8-8. It wasn’t until the 1999-00 NFL season when Tennessee was the AFC’s Super Bowl XXXIV representative with a 13-3 record. They followed that up with another 13-3 season.
NFL fans have become increasingly impatient. They want winning football. They want immediate results. They see Andy Reid turning a 2-14 team into a 9-0 AFC West leader who hails triumphantly over a preseason Super Bowl favorite Denver Broncos . They see Colin Kaepernick leading the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in not even his first full season as a starter.
Some teams take the patient approach. Sometimes it pays off (New York Giants with Eli Manning). Other times, the window of opportunity closes during the course of inaction (New York Jets with Mark Sanchez). The key is evaluating which players and/or coaches offer long-term value which will pay off in the long run.
This brings the question: what has Munchak done to show that he’s the long-term answer at head coach? One of the most important things to consider is how a coach fares against the divisional foes that he faces twice per season. Let’s take a look:
at Jacksonville Jaguars (16-14 LOSS)
vs Houston Texans (41-7 LOSS)
vs Indianapolis Colts (27-10 WIN)
at Indianapolis Colts (27-13 LOSS)
vs Jacksonville Jaguars (23-17 WIN)
at Houston Texans (23-22 WIN)
at Houston Texans (38-14 LOSS)
vs Indianapolis Colts (19-13 LOSS)
at Jacksonville Jaguars (24-19 LOSS)
vs Houston Texans (24-10 LOSS)
at Indianapolis Colts (27-23 LOSS)
vs Jacksonville Jaguars (38-20 WIN)
at Houston Texans (30-24 LOSS)
vs Jacksonville Jaguars (29-27 LOSS)
vs Indianapolis Colts
at Indianapolis Colts
at Jacksonville Jaguars
vs Houston Texans
That’s a 4-10 record against AFC South opponents. In their last eight divisional games, the Titans are 1-7. Their four wins have come against a 2011 Colts team who was in the midst of their 13-game losing streak, a 2011 Jaguars team who finished the season with an interim head coach, a 2011 Texans team who had nothing to play for, and a 2012 Jaguars team who finished 2-14. One of those two wins came against Tennessee.
Just consider some of these losses. Munchak’s career started with a setback against a Luke McCown-led Jaguars offense. Basically, a 0-13 Colts team eliminated Tennessee from playoff contention. A 2012 loss to a 1-9 Jaguars team cost Chris Palmer his offensive coordinator job. This 2013 loss to a 0-8 Jaguars team could have significant consequences in the AFC playoff race.
Think about Munchak’s 2.5-season reign. Point out the uncompetitive games to better teams. There are a lot of them. We just recalled three losses against potential 1-15, 0-16 teams. It’s not the amount of losses as much as the way this team loses games or the inferior competition that they lose to.
Can you point out any signature wins? There were blowout wins against the Carolina Panthers (2011) and Miami Dolphins (2012). Big-margin wins don’t mean signature. How about his first win? In 2011, the Titans defeated a Baltimore Ravens team 26-13. That was in Week 2. The Ravens finished that season with a 12-4 record in an AFC North that included three playoff teams.
That’s way too long. Now more than ever, Munchak needs a signature win. Despite losing four of their last five games, the Titans are two games behind a conference-leading Colts team who has been significantly affected with Reggie Wayne’s absence. The Colts are coming off a humbling 38-8 home loss to a St. Louis Rams team whom, just last week, the Titans defeated on the road. From Nov. 14 to Dec. 1, the Titans have two opportunities to match records with their divisional foe.
The Colts are vulnerable. Even when the Titans had a franchise-worst defense, both games were competitive. One controversial call and/or play in both games could’ve changed a Colts sweep into a Titans sweep. Trent Richardson hasn’t been the dominant running back who can hurt the Titans defense. The Titans have cornerbacks who can contain T.Y. Hilton. Tennessee’s defensive line can take advantage of the Colts offensive line. Last season, Shonn Greene had a career day against the Colts.
This is it. Munchak has three days to regroup his men and prepare for a Thursday night bloodbath. The Titans can either quit or let this serve as the turning point to their present and future. For the most part, the defense has carried its weight. It’s time for this offense to complement them. Even if they’re not scoring 30-plus points, at least extend drives with first downs and avoid turnovers deep inside their own territory.
What if the Titans lose? That leaves the Titans with a 4-6 record and an upcoming three-game road trip against the Oakland Raiders, Colts and Denver Broncos. While this front office probably wouldn’t make this a “do-or-die” game (a 4-6 record still has them in the playoff hunt), it puts Munchak in a very difficult spot. Team could easily collapse to 5-8, even 4-9.
October is full of pink. Continue the losing trend and that color may reappear before the season ends. Just for different reasons.