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Commentary: Management scores with two solid hires

Now that Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt and Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason have been designated to lead those programs for the foreseeable future, let us take a look at the two men who made it happen. Both of them were neophytes in such matters.
General Manager Ruston Webster (with the help of CEO Tommy Smith’s checkbook) landed Whisenhunt.
It was Webster’s first time to hire a NFL head coach. He has a background in player personnel, both at Tampa Bay and Seattle.
There was enormous pressure on Webster to make a hire that will be highly scrutinized by the fans and media. He wound up getting the man he wanted in Whisenhunt, even though the two men had never met, a rarity in the NFL.
Webster is from Mississippi, Whisenhunt from Georgia. That was their first connection. They spoke Southern. They also had a number of friends in the NFL who vouched for them.
After interviewing each other, it didn’t take long for both of them to trust this job was the best fit for Whisenhunt.
“The fact that I felt so good about Ruston (and 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,’’ the 51-year-old Whisenhunt said.
Webster felt the same vibes as Whisenhunt.
“We spent several hours talking and hit it off,’’ Webster said of their conversation three days before Whisenhunt signed on with the Titans. “I think Ken is an excellent fit for the Tennessee Titans and I’m glad he felt the same way. … I look for this to be a really fine marriage.’’
Whisenhunt came from being a walk-on at Georgia Tech to playing tight end for three NFL teams, to becoming the Titans head coach. He coached the Arizona Cardinals for six seasons, and took them to Super Bowl XLIII where they lost to the Steelers. 
Kurt Warner was their quarterback at the time and he credited Whisenhunt with improving the team.
“He brought honesty, integrity and consistency in his approach,’’ Warner said. “It was enormous for us because we hadn’t won. He convinced us that we could win, that he had a plan and it will work. His biggest challenge was to convince us that we could do it.
“He listens to players and takes their input. Now he may not always do what the players want if he doesn’t believe in it, but he has an open door. He also had a good pulse on the team and what we needed. His style also gave us ownership in the process, knowing that our voice could be heard. … It helped the leaders be leaders.’’    
Over on West End, Vanderbilt fans didn’t know who Athletics Director David Williams would land to replace James Franklin. It was only Williams’ second time to hire a football coach and everyone knew following Franklin would be a tall order.
Derek Mason was a undersized cornerback at Northern Arizona, who played big and turned to coaching after his playing days. He worked at a number of places, including the NFL. He coached under former Nebraska coach Frank Solich and at his most recent stop, under Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw at Stanford.
Mason is not as polished as Franklin. He speaks straight from the heart and can be equally successful in recruiting and on the field.
Whisenhunt and Mason will give area fans a dose of adrenalin, one they hope holds up for years. 

Sport Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee. He can be reached at

Posted on: 1/22/2014


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