Monday, January 4, 2016
A dysfunctional Titans franchise tries to right the ship
When Steve Underwood was talked out of retirement by the Titans dysfunctional ownership group last spring and installed as interim president/CEO, his stated top priority was to hire his own successor.
On Monday, Underwood agreed to remain in his role on a permanent basis.
Good luck, Steve. You're going to need it.
With the dismissal of Ruston Webster, Underwood's top priorities now are hiring a general manager and a head coach -- in that order.
Here's how it should work: Underwood hires a proven general manager (Bill Polian should be his first call) and the new general manager identifies and hires his head coach.
But remember, these are the Titans. The odds they get it right aren't good. With ownership in disarray and with rumors out there that the team soon may be up for sale, many quality G.M. and coaching candidates are going to look elsewhere ... with good reason.
For everything positive about this organization (quarterback Marcus Mariota is a future star, the Titans have the No. 1 draft pick and Nashville is a heckuva place to call home), it's difficult to overcome unstable ownership when you're competing with other teams for top executives and coaches.
At least they got it right with the ouster of Webster, whose contract was expiring and was not renewed. The team the Titans put on the field this year lacked quality and depth. And that's Webster's fault.
Since being elevated to the general manager role in 2012, Webster had the final word on the draft and free agency. He failed far too often.
When it came to the draft, Webster's whiffs were many. His second-round picks in 2012-14 look like busts -- Bishop Sankey, Justin Hunter and Zach Brown. If you consistently miss in the second round, you're not doing your job.
Likewise, Chance Warmack and Taylor Lewan, the first-round picks in 2013 and '14, have yet to play up to their draft status. Warmack was the No. 10 overall pick and Lewan No. 11.
Webster's most recent draft was punctuated by some question marks. While he certainly got it right with Mariota and while second-rounder Dorial Green-Beckham shows great potential, other picks raised eyebrows.
Webster drafted Jeremiah Poutasi in the third round with the vision he would be a solid right tackle, even though most draft analysts saw Poutasi as a guard. After a handful of games, it became clear Poutasi did not have the quickness or range to play tackle in the NFL. He was moved inside but struggled so badly that he seldom got on the field in the second half of the season.
Considering how terrible the Titans offensive line was, the fact that Poutasi still couldn't get playing time was telling.
Likewise, picking Jalston Fowler in the fourth round was a head-scratcher. Although Fowler did a solid job when he was on the field (Pro Football Focus graded him No. 2 among all fullbacks this season), his involvement in the offense was limited. Fowler played only 149 snaps in 16 games. Since the Titans ran 966 plays, Fowler participate in just 15.4% of the snaps.
In short, Webster had to go. But finding a quality replacement isn't going to be easy with all the concerns about the current state of ownership.
Steve Underwood, you're on the clock.
David Climer is a former sports columnist for The Tennessean who recently accepted an early retirement buyout. Reach him on Twitter @DavidClimer.