In the wake of the somewhat shocking news that the Titans and Mike Munchak have fired offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger there are a lot of questions left to be answered. Who will replace him? What other offensive coaches could be let go (namely Dowell Loggains, who was moving upward on the staff during the season)? How will this affect the roster? Will the new offensive coordinator have much say in the next QB and RB coaches?
But perhaps the most important question for now, and the one I'm here to discuss is... why?
Why fire Dinger right now? First of all Munchak has a multi-year deal of an as-of-yet undisclosed length, while Dinger had just one more year on the extension he signed back in November. In a year where the labor negotiations may wipeout 70% or more of the normal time coaches have to get ready for a season, we'd all been fed the line about how familiarity was at a premium. The less new stuff guys had to learn in a shortened training camp/preseason, the better they'd understand the system, they (myself included) said.
Then there was the fact that 'Dinger had a pretty impressive record as a QB coach and play caller outside of some low points of the VY era. He coached Steve McNair to an MVP, guided Kerry Collins to 13 wins and Jay Culter to some of his best years yet. By all accounts 'Dinger did one hell of a job with a QB who was more interested in being the future governor of Texas than the best NFL QB he could be. We saw the progress on the field, even when we didn't know about the struggles off of it.
I'm not buying that Munchak did this just to make a point to the couple of coaches left, and there are better ways to send messages to the players than canning respected coaches. I'm laying all of that out to say that Munch could have retained 'Dinger for one more year without risking his own job. Nobody would have blamed him too much if it didn't workout, and he could have let him go after the season without putting himself behind the 8 ball with Reinfeldt and Adams.
No, I think the biggest beef between Munchak and Heimerdinger was touched on in (you didn't think I could write this much without getting a link in here, did ya?) Munchak's first press conference as head coach, even if he didn't mean to tip his hand:
... there’s no reason we can’t win a Super Bowl with [our current] offensive line.
Two years ago everyone would have said "no sh*t". But after this last season? Really? The middle of the line looked like a disaster, and they all looked pretty terrible at run blocking. Run blocking hasn't been their forte for a good while, but they damned near got Chris Johnson killed with how they used him between the tackles and in the passing game.
And Munchak knew it, he just couldn't do anything about it then. Now he can, and he has.
Dinger's calling card was a gambling, vertical passing game that was based off of a power running game. It's the same principals that folks around town used to say was taking years off of Steve McNair and Eddie George's careers, and it's the kind of system Kerry Collins used to thrive in while he was younger. Titans fans from the pre-VY era will recall how Fisher used to stand there in press conferences and say "Well, a 50 yard interception is really just the same as a punt" with a straight face. It's because they meant it.
So, keep that in mind as we look at the names who we are hearing as the early candidates to replace Dinger (via McCormick/McFarland's TitansInsider premium content): Tommy Clements, Bill Callahan and Tom Moore. What do they each have in common? West coast-derived*, QB-friendly systems. Moore helped sculpt Peyton Manning into... Peyton Manning. Clements has been working with Aaron Rodgers since he was on the bench after his 2006 rookie season. Callahan, who I'm not a fan of as general rule, coached Rich Gannon to an MVP season and the Super Bowl, and has been an assistant with the Jets working with their stud-filled offensive line and young QB Mark Sanchez.
I would bet there's a good part of Munchak who was frustrated with how Dinger used Chris Johnson as well. The west-coast style offenses around the NFL today are pretty commonly the most likely to be running the screen game as well: just watch New Orleans and Philadelphia. Green Bay would probably be using it more if they weren't such a train-wreck at the RB position they had to spend most of the season with a fullback manning the position due to injuries: In 2009 their RBs caught about as many passes as their TEs did.
So what do I take from this? Munchak has seen enough of Dinger's power running/vertical passing system. He's also sick of the blame getting put on his offensive line if they were any less than perfect. I think Munchak is setting the stage for the Titans to run a system that fits CJ's strengths on the edge and through the air, and a system that gives the QB multiple options to get the ball out more quickly. Some of these things are attributes you often seen in west-coast derived offenses in today's game, but they're the exact things we haven't seen since the Titans landed in Nashville.
We probably won't be saying that for long if Munchak can make the right hire.
* Why do I keep saying "west coast-derived"? Because nobody really runs the original west coast offense anymore. Everybody has their own take on the philosophy Bill Walsh refined because it's just that: a philosophy. It's not a set of plays and formations, but a way you're going to attack defenses and make them react.