It's difficult to find a person more associated with one NFL franchise than Mike Munchak is with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans. Munchak was a Hall of Fame guard for the Oilers from 1982 through '93, and immediately became an offensive assistant upon his retirement. As the organization moved to Tennessee in the mid-1990s, Munchak moved up and became the team's offensive line coach, and he held that position through 2010. When head coach Jeff Fisher and owner Bud Adams locked horns one last time and Fisher decided to seek opportunities elsewhere, Munchak replaced him in 2011.
Munchak was fired on Jan. 4 after amassing a 22-26 record as a head coach over a three-year span. It was, as one might imagine, a wrenching change in life to move on from a team he'd been involved with for so long.
"This is a day I hoped would never come, but there is a reason for everything," he said in a statement. "Words cannot express the sadness for leaving this organization that I have been a part of for over 30 years. My goal as head coach was to do things the right way with the right people and I felt confident that the results would follow. Sometimes rebuilding a team and its culture takes time, but I truly believe we were on the verge of great things. Unfortunately my vision did not match that of the organization, so we will part ways."
As it turned out, the difference in philosophy between Munchak and the organization had a lot to do with team president Tommy Smith and general manager Ruston Webster offering him a two-year contract extension under one condition -- that he fire several assistant coaches along the way.
Faced with the opportunity to further his own career path at the expense of people he believed in, Munchak walked away from the offer.
“I can’t fire someone when I don’t believe they should be fired. Firing someone is awful. Too many people were going to be affected,’’ Munchak told Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean on Sunday. “I didn’t do anything to look like I was a great, loyal guy who went above and beyond the call of duty by not firing coaches. I did what you should do and what I thought was right. For me to maintain a job and a lot of guys lose jobs on a plan I didn’t think was right, I couldn’t do that.
“I’ll make tough decisions, but not if they’re not right.”
Mucnchak was told that he would have to lose offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and two of his best friends -- offensive line coach Bruce Matthews and linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio. In total, according to Wyatt, the guys up top were telling Munchak that he would have to lose at least half-a-dozen assistants in a rather large shakeup.
Cronyism? According to Munchak, it was about doing what was right to him.
“It wasn’t just about Chet or Bruce," he told Wyatt. "People say, ‘Those are Munch’s guys.’ It was about the big picture. A lot of guys were going to be affected. If it was the right thing to do, I would do it. I have fired offensive coordinators [Chris Palmer] before. And I let go of a special teams coach [Alan Lowry].
“It’s not like ‘Munch isn’t here anymore because he wouldn’t fire two guys.’ In my eyes, that’s not what we disagreed on. There was more to it than that. Obviously they made it easy. They fired all of us so they could start over.”
Munchak said that he hoped the two sides could come to an agreement that kept him in the building, but it became clear that Smith and Webster were holding heavy cards, and the coach wasn't going to play that game.
“This is hard for me," he concluded. "For me, it is an era. I was hoping to retire a Titan. I was hoping to say, 'Hey, I made it 40 years with the same organization.' I’m disappointed it didn’t work out.” Munchak interviewed with Penn State over the weekend, as his alma mater looks to replace Bill O'Brien, who recently became the Houston Texans' head coach. Munchak is still finding his way as a head coach, but one thing's for sure -- whoever next hires him will get a coach who is not afraid to stand on principle.