Mike Munchak boiled things down to the basics.
In one of his first acts as the Tennessee Titans head coach, he spelled out for everyone what they could expect from him in plain and simple language. He also made it clear what he expects of all those around him.
“My philosophy is simple: No matter what your job is with this organization, be a pro,” he said. “What that means is: Know what to do and do it. No excuses. No whining. Just do it. “
It was that direct, no-nonsense approach that he used in his 14 seasons as offensive line coach to help four different players earn a total of 10 Pro Bowl invitations. No doubt, it also served him well last week when he interviewed for the job with the only organization he ever has known as a professional and convinced franchise leaders that he was the choice to replace Jeff Fisher, which he officially did when he was introduced Monday afternoon at a press conference.
“He’s a leader,” General Manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “He has a vision, and he has a passion for that vision.”
Armed with Hall of Fame credentials as a player, a first-hand awareness of what he perceives as the Titans’ current strengths and weaknesses and the support of an owner who for the first time installed one of his former players as the face of the franchise, Munchak spoke with confidence about what he believes he can do as a head coach.
He opened the door for the possibility of significant changes to the coaching staff when he said “anything’s possible” and dismissed the notion that the team needs to endure any sort of rebuilding process. He remained true to the company line that Vince Young would not be the Titans’ quarterback and hinted at some basic philosophical shifts when it comes to schemes and play calling, if personnel allows.
He also spoke with clarity about what he will do in his new role, based on a philosophy rooted in his college days at Penn State under legendary coach Joe Paterno.
• Give direction: “I need to lay out the plan for everyone, so everyone knows what’s expected of them.”
• Manage: “I’m going to be involved in everything. I’m going to keep people focused on the task at hand. And if there are problems, we’re solving the problems before they become bigger issues.”
• Get out of the way: “I’m going to let people perform and do their job. I’m going to let them put their signature on their play and their performance just so they can take ownership of their job.”
For nearly 30 years, Munchak has held a job within the Oilers/Titans organization.
He was a first-round draft pick in 1982 who played guard for 12 years and earned nine Pro Bowl invitations. He retired having played 159 regular season games, more than all but three others throughout the organization’s history.
He immediately moved into coaching with the team, first as an offensive assistant and then, since 1997, as the offensive line coach.
He is one of five Oilers/Titans players enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and now is the first former player ever to serve as the franchise’s head coach.
“He is an intense guy, but he is not a screamer or yeller,” tackle Michael Roos said. “He just gets the most out of his players because you want to do well for him. That is the kind of respect that he commands, and he gets it.
“To be able to bring that to the head coaching position, I think it will trickle down to the entire team and bring focus and hard work. That is the kind of work ethic he demands.”
It is unusual, but hardly unprecedented, for a player who starred for an NFL team to later coach that team.
Green Bay tried it twice in a row with Bart Starr (1975-83) and Forrest Gregg (1984-87), two all-time greats from the Vince Lombardi era. Between them, they led the team to one playoff appearance.
Mike Ditka led the Chicago Bears to the NFL championship in 1985, nearly 20 years after he played his last game for that franchise.
Munchak called his sustained tenure with one franchise “a unique opportunity.” He also stressed that, despite never having served as a coordinator or a head coach at any level, he knows his new job and plans to do it.
“I need to be a good leader,” Munchak said. “… In my opinion, this type of leadership plus good personnel decisions will translate to wins on the field. Ultimately, that’s how I’ll be judged as a head coach — by wins and losses.
“My vision is one day presenting the Lombardi Trophy to Mr. Adams and presenting to every person in this organization a Super Bowl ring.”