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Ken Whisenhunt's Introductory Press Conference Transcript

Posted Jan 14, 2014

GENERAL MANAGER RUSTON WEBSTER

(opening statement)

I would like to thank everybody for being here.  It is an exciting time for the Titans.  I also want to thank Tommy (Smith) for giving us the resources to make this happen.  We are very excited to have Ken Whisenhunt as our new head coach.  This has been, I wouldn’t say a long process, it has happened fast, but a lot of work has been put into the last few weeks and we are excited for where it is going.  I think Ken is an excellent fit for the Tennessee Titans and I’m glad he felt the same way we did about that.  We spent several hours talking last Friday night and hit it off.  I look for this to be a really fine marriage.  Ken is an outstanding offensive coach, but also an outstanding head coach.  He has a background with several successful franchises and we look forward to a new day and creating a new culture with the Tennessee Titans.

HEAD COACH KEN WHISENHUNT

(opening statement)

Good afternoon.  Thanks for coming.  Let me start by saying it is a great honor to be here today in front of you.  I want to thank Tommy Smith for bringing me here.  Certainly what Ruston (Webster) said was exactly that.  We had a good talk last Friday night and we hit it off.  Sometimes those things happen and I feel really good about where we are going as an organization and I’m excited to get in here and get to work.

(on his assessment of Jake Locker)

I just got finished with our season two days ago.  It has been kind of a whirlwind.  You know there is a lot of time that goes into that, especially when you get into the playoffs.  I really haven’t had a chance to study that.  That is going to be a big thing over the next weeks and months, as far as evaluating our players and how they fit in.  The one thing I will say is that I liked Jake coming out.  One of the things I think we have done a good job of in the places that I have been is putting them in positions to be successful and that is what our goal is to be here.

(on why he chose the Titans organization and whether it was a struggle to decide)

It is always a struggle.  I think the thing that was difficult was the timing just because it was an emotional day from a standpoint of having lost a tough game on Sunday and battling to get where we were, so there are a lot of things going through your mind.  First of all, I was very lucky to have an opportunity to speak with Ruston.  Anytime any organization in this league has an interest in you, I think it is very flattering.  Detroit and Cleveland both are great organizations but I think really what it came down to was you have to feel comfortable about the direction you are going in and who you are doing that with.  That is not to say anything about any other organization.  I think one of the things that I have learned in my time in the NFL is that chemistry is an important part of this.  When you feel like you have that chemistry and you are excited about it that plays a big part of it.

(on how much he thought about his second opportunity as a head coach and what he would change)

When you are in the season you don’t really think as much about your next opportunity.  You are focused on trying to win a game in this league which is hard.  Our season in San Diego was up and down.  We were at 5-7 with some four games left and your focus is so much on just trying to finish strong and we did that.  I didn’t think as much about that.  Now as I sit here today and think about the experiences I have had in the league, I think one of the important things is you learn from it and I think I will do just that.  I was very lucky to have been in a number of different places with successful coaches.  We have had a little bit of success myself as a head coach and you always look back and think there are things you would like to do differently.  Thankfully I am going to get an opportunity to try that.

(on the offensive and defensive systems he will run)

Hopefully our offense will look a little bit like it looked this past year in San Diego.  We were pretty good.  I think we are going to be versatile offensively.  We will have a number of different personnel packages.  I think we will have some up-tempo components with it.  A lot of it is going to be dependent upon our personnel and what they can handle.  We are going to push them; that is where you have success when you do that.  Defensively, there is a misconception I think about the 3-4 and the 4-3, 70 percent of this game now is in sub-defense which is four down, three down and you are using both components when you do that.  I know this as an offensive coach: when you are preparing for a 4-3 and a 3-4 it very difficult because of protection issues.  You have to have elements of both of them.  I think to say that we are going to run a 3-4, two-gap defense that is not what we are going to do.

(on starting his coaching career at Vanderbilt)

First of all, I would like to thank Rod (Dowhower) because he gave me my start and certainly Vanderbilt University did the same thing and I’m very grateful for that.  It is kind of ironic that I get a chance to come back to where it all started for me.  When you are a former player and you are trying to decide what you want to do in your life after football to get an opportunity to coach college football was unique and I’m very grateful for that.  It didn’t take very long once I got into it to realize how important it was to me.  This is a special place for me and I’m glad to be back.

(on when during the interview did he realize it was a good fit)

I think a lot of it had to do with people that we knew in common, people that you have strong relationships with and that you trust and that kind of set the table.  Then it doesn’t take long after that.  When you talk about your vision and things that you see and things that are important and you agree on them.  That was a big piece of it and it was very good.

(on if he expects to be the offensive playcaller)

Unless somebody tells me I can’t, yes.

(on building his staff)

Well Ruston and I have talked about it and I’m going to sit down and talk with the staff.  Once again, we are looking for good football coaches and I know there are some good coaches on this staff, but there are also some good coaches that I hope I get the opportunity to speak to.  This is a process that with the way the NFL rules are now is a little bit tricky.  There are some coaches that you will have to ask for permission to speak to and you may or may not get that opportunity and there are other coaches that you know are out there that you will get a chance to.  It is going to be a little bit of kind of a back and forth over the next week or so, but the one thing I know from talking to Mr. Smith and Ruston both is that we want to get good coaches and we want to get it done as soon as we can and that is our goal.

(on if the NFL rules hold coaches back)

You know what, the people that have been in this league for a long time have made great decisions about the league and they are a lot smarter than I am.  I don’t question anything about the way it is structured.

(on how much influence Ruston Webster and Tommy Smith had on his decision)

This place is special to me and that has a pull.  From my experience and playing here as an opponent coming in here, the fan base is great, they are loud, you like that environment, so when you think about wanting to coach in a place where you have that, that is our goal for our fans to be supportive of us.  That means we have to do a good job of giving them a product to be proud of.  The fact that I felt so good about Ruston and Mr. Smith and I had many good conversations and I felt really good about him when I met him, I think that was a big piece of it.

(on if in Arizona he learned what not to do as a head coach)

There was a lot of good in Arizona going to a Super Bowl and being in six playoff games, so you try to learn from the good and the bad.  Obviously, it didn’t end well in Arizona for us and sometimes that happens in the NFL, but I think looking back on it you can draw from that and try to correct some things that maybe you do differently.

(on assessing the quarterback position factoring in Jake Locker’s injury)

I really trust Ruston and his assessment of our team and his staff.  I think that is a part of the process, plus you can look at some of things he had on tape.  Hopefully I will get a chance to sit with him and talk with him because that is a big piece of the puzzle too.  Everything I have heard about Jake as far as the student of the game and how he works has been positive.  With the successful guys that I have been around that is a big piece of it, so that will help.

(on Chris Johnson and the running game)

I haven’t really had a chance to look at Chris and this team offensively.  I know a little bit more about the defense because we played them the third game of the season, even though that seems like forever ago.  That is going to be something that we look at over the next couple of weeks and months.

(on the Titans defensive personnel)

I know when we came in here and played them that I thought they had good personnel.  I thought they played hard.  There were some issues as far as being able to handle some of the guys up front.  I know the secondary played well against us.  You just never know that is 13 games later and a lot can change over the course of 13 games.  Part of that is going to be looking at the tape and seeing what we feel like where they are right now.

(on his philosophy and where it came from)

I will answer that in reverse order.  A lot of it starts with Joe Gibbs and of course Bill Cowher, both were good coaches that I learned a lot from I believe.  As far as a vision for our team, I want a smart, tough, disciplined football team.  We are going to work, but the important thing is that they are ready to go on Sunday.  We are looking for those type of characters, players that fit that mold.  I think there are a lot of them on this team.

(on if he “peels the paint” when addressing his team)

I think maybe some of the players that I have coached before would be a good source if you could ask that question.  There have been times I’m sure where I have peeled the paint, but I have a lot of respect for these guys and this job.  We demand that they perform at a high level and as long as they are doing that then you really don’t have any issues.

(on the screen game in his offense)

To be honest with you, sometimes it is the teams you are playing.  We played Cincinnati two weeks ago in a playoff game, and it is hard to get a screen against them because there D-line looked for the screens and they do a nice job with it.  I guess that kind of goes to the philosophy of trying to do what is the best attack against them.  In a nutshell maybe there will be some games where we will screen it more when we feel like it is a good match and there will be some when we don’t.

(on the run/pass ratio of his offense)

50/50, right in the middle.  We were close to that in San Diego.  Actually we were a little heavier toward the run late in the season and that was more of a function of game planning and trying to intelligently attack an opponent that we wanted to keep off the field.

(on getting explosive plays from the pass game)

We had a lot of success with that doing some gadget plays when I was in Pittsburgh.  We have had success doing some other things in different places.  I think it is a function of your team and what type of players you have and what type of position you can put them in to do that.  Sometimes some of the most explosive plays are short passes that turn into long run after catch.  I don’t think you go in with the idea we are going to have 15 explosive plays in a game.  What you are trying to do is attack a defense and get some of those shots, but if you think every play is designed to go 100 yards for a touchdown, that is not the way it works.  A lot of times where you are successful in this league offensively is getting those five and six yard completions or runs and keeping it in third-and-short and converting third downs because then you can sustain drives.  Sustained drives lead to possession time which depending on the type of game you are playing is a big piece of the puzzle.

(on developing young talent and how to deal with a struggling young player)

Some of that is dictated by where you are as a team.  Sometimes you have to play with guys whether they are struggling or not, young players, because you could have a situation that week where you are injured or you don’t have a number of guys at that position.  I think the biggest thing that you have to have is competition because I think that brings the best out in players.  If they are not going to do it the right way, if they are not going to work hard at it, then they are not going to play.  If you have a healthy environment like that and you have guys that buy into what you are doing, then you have a good chance to be successful.

(on if he thinks the Titans are in rebuilding mode or ready to compete for a championship)

I think maybe Ruston and Mr. Smith could answer that a little better than me, but I don’t think there’s ever a game you go into thinking that you’re not going to win.

(on handling play-calling duties himself and if he’ll hand the offensive coordinator a playbook or take ideas from the coordinator)

Well, I’ve never been opposed to ideas because they’re an important part of growing in this business. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of different people. I think we have a good base system that we’re going to run offensively, but you always welcome input and you have a chance during (organized team activities) and training camp to try some of those things and see how you like them. Sometimes you just never know how it’s going to go. I mean, there have been run schemes that we’ve gotten into later in the season that have been outstanding that we didn’t think were big in training camp, so I think we have  a base offense, we have a core offense that we’re going to run. I’ve had success with it in a number of different places with a number of different players, but as you get the opportunity to work with coaches that you think are good coaches, they have ideas and you’re always open to incorporating those ideas.

(on how much more closely he’ll work with quarterbacks than a linebacker or starting safety)

Well, you do just because you’re calling the plays, so you’re involved with every play you call in practice because you’ve got to get used to hearing and talking and that interaction, so obviously, as a head coach, you have interaction with your defensive players but the defensive coordinator is doing exactly the same thing that the play caller is doing on offense, so obviously, your interaction with them as much is a little more limited.

(on if he’ll turn the defense over to the coordinator or have input on game days)

You always have input but you also trust the coaches that you hire. You hire good football coaches for that reason, and I think everybody worked together as a team.

(on his policy regarding media attending practices)

You know, that’s something that we’ve got to talk about. You have any suggestions? I would guess you do. Every team that I’ve been with, they’ve done it differently, so I think we’ll talk about what we think is the best thing for us going forward and that’s what you do.

(on playing tight end but being good at working with quarterbacks)

Well, first of all, thank you for saying that, but I couldn’t give you an answer for that. I think it’s more about trying to put those guys in the best situation. They’re high-level competitors, they’re guys that want to do it the right way and they want to win. Maybe it’s as much them as it is you. I think I’ve been very lucky to work with some good quarterbacks and, you know, they’ve played well.

(on how difficult it was to evaluate the quarterback situation in deciding to become Titans coach)

Well, I think you’ve got to look at everything. It’s certainly an important position, but there’s a lot of things that go into being a successful football team. A lot of it, obviously starts with how you feel about the people you work with, and I feel great about that.

(on some people calling Jake Locker “injury prone” and if that’s a fair label to place on any player or if injuries come down to luck)

Well, I can’t dispute that, what you say. Sometimes it is luck. Sometimes guys have bad luck. Sometimes maybe guys are a little too tough for their own good and not smart enough in certain situations. I’ve seen that happen before too. As far as Jake specifically, you know, when you’re on another team, you’re not as aware of what the injury history is or how those injuries have occurred, so I really couldn’t speak to that.

(on if it’s fair to say a player is “injury prone” or if it’s a case-by-case basis)

I would have to say it’s more of a case-by-case basis, I would think, just sitting here and talking.

(on if there’s a skill to being durable at quarterback)

Yeah, I think you could probably debate both sides of that, to be honest with you. I think one of the things that I believe along those lines is the offseason program and what you put into that. I know as a former player that you used to always say you train hard in the offseason not to start camp but to make it through the end of the season because it’s a physical grind and I think one of the things that’s important is how you work and you work smart at times but yet you’re also pushing forward, so there’s a balance there, but I definitely believe in today’s game that training and stretching and how they take care of their bodies is an important piece to that.

(on if it is possible that the Titans could draft a quarterback in the first round and if it is his call on who would be starting)

Ruston and I would say anything is possible. In my discussions with Ruston, and we haven’t had specific talks about that, but I’m comfortable up here saying that I feel strongly that we’re going to take the best player that we feel is available for the Titans organization, and that’s one of the big reasons that I came here, was that I felt strongly about Ruston and his belief in football.

(on where he stands on playing two tight ends or a tight end and a fullback)

I’d like to have both, two tight ends and a fullback, but you’ve got to have tight ends that can play fullback and you’ve got to have a fullback that can sub into a tight end position, you know, with the 53-man roster, that’s the way it is, but the big thing is the guy that’s playing that position, whether it’s the second or third tight end or it’s your fullback, it’s got to be an integral part of special teams because in order to be a successful team, that’s how you have to put your team together, so I guess what I’m saying is if it came down to the 53-man cut, and Ruston and I are talking about it, if you’ve got a guy that’s a fullback and a tremendous special teams player, he’s probably going to have a role on this team.

(on if he’s maintained relationships and reached out to people in Nashville that he met as a Vanderbilt assistant in the 1990s)

Well, I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t make me sound so old by using the 90s in that question, but yes, to answer your question. I’ve stayed in touch with them through the years, and like I said, we’ve played here a number of times when I was in Pittsburgh and Arizona and even last year when I was in San Diego. Generally, when we come back here, you get a chance to see them again.

(on what his golf handicap is and if he usually gets a chance to work on that this time of year)

I haven’t worked on it, but it’s bad right now, and I don’t foresee getting the opportunity to work on it here in the near future, but maybe in the summer some time.

(on what he thinks contributed to the struggles in Arizona and what he learned from them)

We had a lot of young players and we had some injuries that put us in a tough position, but the team stuck together and they played hard, and I think that’s an important piece of it because, like I said, this year (Chargers) Coach (Mike) McCoy and (GM) Tom Telesco in San Diego did a great job with the fact that even though we were 5-7, the team stuck together and when you do that, whatever your record is, you have a chance to work through that and pull out of it. The way I look at it in Arizona is it was tough, but the guys never quit and worked hard.

(on what he thinks about the AFC South)

Well, the AFC South is something that I’ve got to learn a little bit more about. We played them this year, so I feel like I know a little bit about them, but mostly it’s from the offensive side off the ball and looking at the defensive perspective, so I really couldn’t speak intelligently as much on the division.

(on if the cities of Nashville, Detroit and Cleveland factored into his decision making)

Well, I mean, I’ve been in all kinds of different places, so it’s not like it’s more about location than anything. I think the thing that’s become important to me, especially where I am in my career, is feeling comfortable with the people you’re working with and feeling comfortable with the organization. I feel great about Ruston, about that working relationship and I have tremendous confidence in Mr. Smith, and this team wants to win and I’m excited about it.

(on the role his family had in the decision)

My kids love it here. I can’t beat around the bush with that, so that’s definitely a bonus.

(on if he knew Tennessee was where he wanted to be when he met with Ruston Webster)

I’ll be honest with you. I really didn’t think much about it at that time. I knew that I liked Ruston and I liked this organization but you’ve got a short window of time that you can spend while you’re still involved with it, and as I said last week, my focus was entirely on that game and trying to be prepared for that game, so until that game was over and until Ruston called back, it really wasn’t prevalent in my thoughts.

(on his timetable for hiring assistants and if he has any agreements with future assistant coaches)

Well, I wish I could tell you that. Do I have any agreements? No. I don’t have any agreements in place with assistants. My timetable on it is to move as quickly as I can. I think there’s a number of coaches that I like, and I know there’s a number of coaches, based off the text messages that I’m getting, that are interested in coming here and working, so I think that process will be one that we’re going to attempt to move quickly on.

TITANS GENERAL MANAGER RUSTON WEBSTER

(on how long after the Chargers’ game that he called Whisenhunt)

How long was it after their game? … Sunday, yeah, the next day.    

 TITANS HEAD COACH KEN WHISENHUNT

(on the philosophies he shares with Webster)

Obviously, what I’ve already said about our football team, about what type of high-character players that play hard, that are going to compete, is part of it.  But I think personnel wise too, that was a piece of it that we discussed in our meeting that I felt so strongly about, the type of player that we’re looking for and the process that we go through in finding the player.  He’s got a very good staff.  I know some guys that are on that staff, and I feel good about that.  I feel good about the inner working of his staff and the coaches and coming to the right consensus of the best players.

(on if the shared philosophies extend to the type of offense and defense they will run)

I would say that we’re looking for the best football players.  Obviously, we have an offensive scheme in mind as far as what type of players are going to best fit that, but we’re not going to turn down good football players because they don’t specifically fit a scheme.  I think one of the things that’s important is that we adapt what we do to try to fit what our players do best.

TITANS PRESIDENT/CEO TOMMY SMITH

(on how involved he was in the process and the qualities that made him want Whisenhunt)

Ruston and I have worked closely for quite some time in defining the characteristics that we were looking for in a head coach.  Time and time again, we came back to Ken.  I’ve always said we were looking for someone who was intelligent and understood and wanted to play the type of football that we want to play here, which is hard-nosed.  His work product is something that you can see every Sunday.  We got a good view of that, the run game and all those things.  I’ve said I wanted to hire intelligent people, give them their job description and let them run with it.  I certainly have an intelligent man here, who I think is well-versed in all aspects of the game.  And the fact that he’s going to be the playcaller delights me.

(on why he is excited about Whisenhunt calling plays)

I just like that.  I’m just drawn to that.

(on having Mike Zimmer in for another interview on Monday before hiring Whisenhunt)

Well, we went through an orderly process, and we did have Mike in on Monday.  He certainly is a very highly qualified individual.  We wanted to have one more conversation with him.  But at the end of the day, (we chose) Ken.

(on if he previously met Whisenhunt in person)

No.  We talked on the phone.  He came in this morning.  He spent time with me.  He got not only to meet me, but he got to meet Susie (Adams Smith) and Amy (Adams Hunt), which is a very important aspect.  He’s met Kenneth (Adams, IV) now.  As you know, we’re a family business.  Our conversations gave me a great deal of confidence, and I have a great deal of confidence in Ruston.  We’ve talked ad nauseam about what we expect out of this football team and what we’re going to build here. 

(on if he was surprised they were able to get Whisenhunt)

I was delighted.

(on what let him know they were in the mix to get Whisenhunt with other teams interested)

I was wishful that we were in the race.  You never know at the end of the day, but I thought we had a good shot based on their conversations.  I think we have a good team.  I think this is an attractive job, and so I was very optimistic that once we got together that we could strike something.

(on where he was when he got the news that Whisenhunt had agreed)

I was on the other end of the phone.  I was in my office with Ruston.

GENERAL MANAGER RUSTON WEBSTER

(on how much of a sales pitch he had to make to get Whisenhunt)

You know, we had to work it, but it was more just us talking football and philosophy and things like that and seeing eye-to-eye there.  I think it was that as much as anything.  He’s obviously a very bright guy, and he can sift through things and make his own decisions.  A recruiting pitch wasn’t necessarily needed there.  It was just more about, like I said, talking football and philosophy and direction.  I do though think we bring a lot to the table with this team and this city, and there is a lot to sell there. 

(on if he knew Whisenhunt was their guy when he flew back from meeting him on Friday)

I knew that he was a guy that would make a great head coach for the Titans.  I did.

HEAD COACH KEN WHISENHUNT

(on if he believes coaches should motivate players, if they should be self-motivated, or both)

I think there’s a combo there.  I think that’s a fair way to say it.  It is important for the coach to motivate the players, but an easy way to motivate the players is if you don’t do it right, you’re not going to play.  I know that’s a great motivation.  Competition is a great motivation too.  You know what?  You’ve got to create the right environment.   Guys have to want to play together.  Football is the greatest sport because it is a team sport.  It’s not a sport of individuals.  If guys don’t buy in, they don’t fit in.  That’s the atmosphere you have to create, and that’s our job to create that.  It starts by picking the right guys.  It starts by creating an atmosphere of competition, which allows these guys to put their best foot forward.  Then having two good men here, that helps me, and that’s an important piece of it.

GENERAL MANAGER RUSTON WEBSTER

(on if he envisions Jake Locker getting a chance again to be the quarterback)

I think that’s something we’ll continue to discuss and go through, but I would anticipate Jake having a good chance to do that.

(on if he envisions Chris Johnson being a part of the team)

We just got a new coach.  Those are things that we have to talk through, and we’ll do all that.  I have been totally focused on this process and getting it done as fast as we could; doing that but coming away with a quality coach, which we did.

(on a scenario where they would have waited until after the Super Bowl if Whisenhunt was not hired)

Had it not happened with Ken—and it did so it’s a moot point—I think we would have regrouped and talked some more and figured out with Tommy which direction we wanted to go.

(on sharing the same vision with Whisenhunt)

I think our vision was very similar.  When he talks about smart, tough, competitive football players, that’s the way I was raised in this business.  From that standpoint, we would be exactly on the same page.

(on his working relationship with Smith)

It’s been great.  We talk pretty much every day.  If it’s not on the phone, it’s by email.  We have been in constant contact.  He is very passionate about this team and winning and making things better here.  I think one of the things that we’ve all three talked about was changing the culture.  I think that’s started and needs to continue to go in the right direction.  That’s what Tommy wants to do.  We talk about that all the time.  Our relationship has been good, whether it’s talking about football or other things, and so it’s been very positive for me.

(on the culture this organization wants)

It’s everybody pulling the same way for a common goal of winning a championship.  It’s in the locker room.  It’s in every part of this building.  I think this city deserves us to be focused on that, and that’s what it is.

(on how close they are to that culture)

I think we’re close.  I think the way our team played through some adversity this year was impressive.  I don’t think that would have always happened every year that I’ve been here.  For me, I think it’s close, and we just need to continue in that direction. 

(on if the team has lacked that culture)

I think at times, but there’s a lot of good people here, and we’ll continue to go in the right direction.

HEAD COACH KEN WHISENHUNT

(on his obligation to help energize the fan base)

We’ve got to give people confidence that we’re going to do just that. Tommy talked about a number of things they want to do, a number of initiatives to make it a better experience for fans.  That’s important.  We want fans in the stadium.  I can tell you this.  In Denver two days ago, it was a tough environment because of the fans in the stands.  I know it’s been that way here.  I’ve experienced it as an opponent coming in here, and I think that one of the things that’s important is that we get that back.  It’s up to us to make sure that we get the right guys out there that are going to represent us well.  If we do that, what is it they say?  ‘They will come.’

(on what type of quarterback he wants)

Kurt Philip Roethlisberger, how about that? … All three of those guys combined?  Yeah, sure. 

GENERAL MANAGER RUSTON WEBSTER

(on if he will make recommendations which assistant coaches should be kept)

We’ll talk about guys.  That’s typical in this situation, but in the end, I’ll let Ken make those decisions.

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