During the press conference for Ken Whisenhunt's firing, the one notable exception at the table was general manager Ruston Webster. He has been at pretty much every press conference for the past four years. Whether it was draft pick introductions or season wrap-ups, Webster has been the face of the Tennessee Titans organization more so than anyone else. His tenure has spanned three different members of Adams family "ownership" (Bud Adams, Tommy Smith, Amy Adams Strunk) and two head coaches. The fact that he wasn't at the front of the Tuesday press conference speaks volumes about his future with the team. Or so I hope.
Perhaps I'm reading way too much into a single press conference. Perhaps my viewpoint is biased because I think he's caused so many problems for this organization.
All that matters is that Ruston Webster should be fired. It doesn't need to be right now, but at the latest it must be done at the end of the season. Ken Whisenhunt was an easy target to hate. Deservedly so, too, given his record and rocky tenure here. The problems for this franchise span much farther than a single head coach though, and that blame must go to the top. Right where Ruston Webster sits. He's the man in charge of football operations and over the years has been allowed to shape the front office as desired (remember the Lake Dawson firing?).
The two leading arguments for me are his record and choice of head coaches. Whisenhunt deserved his fate because his head coaching record here was terrible. Ruston Webster not only shares Whisenhunt's record here, but also Mike Munchak's. Over Webster's four seasons as general manager, the team has gone 16-39, winning 29% of their games. If you are what your record says you are, then Webster is among the worst general managers in the league.
Now when asked about Webster's impact on the coaching search, interim CEO Steve Underwood had this to say:
Well I think our general manager will have a role in looking for it. The question I was asked earlier is, who will make the final decision, and that person will be Amy (Adams Strunk). But I think Ruston (Webster) will be involved in the search.
Quite honestly, that is a terrifying thought. Mike Munchak was hired one season before Webster became GM, but Webster was here as Vice-President of Personnel at that time. He's had an attempt to make his vision work with two head coaches and failed miserably. How many general managers would get a third chance at finding success? This is nearly unprecedented in the NFL. I tried to find examples of general managers working through three head coach tenures and found one: Matt Millen. Ruston Webster has given me no evidence to suggest that he can identify a good head coach candidate and no evidence that he can make that vision work once a head coach is hired.
Steve Underwood in that same press conference also mentioned doing a study of Webster's draft work. Here's a nice summary of the picks that Webster was GM for, courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com:
That is a whole lot of terrible selections.
Worth noting is that the farther away you get from a specific draft, the worse it gets. Its a lot easier to see the busts after a season or two. "Potential" in a player is only a positive if they actually reach it. Wasted potential is useless, and there are so many players that fit the description here. Each of these drafts resulted in very few starters and only a handful of contributors. A lot of these guys are still on the Titans' roster, but that shouldn't be considered as a support of Webster's work. There are plenty of bad draft picks kept around because there is no one else to replace them.
Even the worst GMs draft some good players, and that's important to consider as well. There is no doubt that a few of the players on this list are already good, and some that are trending upward. Still, his draft record can't be evaluated in a vacuum; you have to consider it relative to the rest of the league. In order to win you need to do things better than everyone else. Even if the Titans hire a promising head coach, it would be hard to succeed with draft results like the ones above.
There are plenty of people responsible for the Tennessee Titans' poor results over the past several seasons. Amy Adams Strunk must hold everyone accountable, and that means firing Ruston Webster.