Sports columnist David Climer defends Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak's decision to bench two players who had broken team rules as the right thing to do.
Here is Mike Munchak, coaching for his job, and he awakens Sunday to a mini-drama.
Two Titans wide receivers have violated team rules. From all indications, it is nothing major. There is no police report. Most likely, it's a matter of not being at the right place at the right time.
Meanwhile, Munchak knows his new boss is in town in order to continue his evaluation process. The last thing the coach needs is to go into a game against a quality opponent like Arizona minus his best deep threat.
Make the call.
Munchak did. He decided the two players involved — Justin Hunter and Damian Williams — would be inactive for the Titans-Cardinals game. In doing so, he injected Kenny Britt and Michael Preston into the game plan.
Britt had not caught a pass since Oct. 20 and had been phased out of the offense. Preston was two weeks removed from the practice squad and had spent most of practice last week on the scout team impersonating Larry Fitzgerald, giving the Titans defense an idea of the different places Arizona's star wideout might line up.
After the Titans lost in overtime, Munchak was asked if he had any reservations about benching Hunter and Williams. His response:
"No second thoughts at all. Team rules are team rules."
Surprised? You shouldn't be. Say what you will about Munchak as an NFL head coach, but the man is true to himself. He believes a pro should act like a pro. And that means you follow certain rules. If not, there are consequences.
"It's disappointing that two guys we were counting on weren't there to play," Munchak said. "But we moved forward."
Does that make him Coach of the Year material? Of course not. Just the same, there is something to be said by a coach who doesn't compromise his rules because his job is on the line.
Would the Titans have won with Hunter and/or Williams on the field? We'll never know. Britt played as many snaps (62) against the Cardinals as he had in the previous eight games combined. He caught three passes as did Preston, who had two TD receptions. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 402 yards and four TDs.
But the Titans had trouble stretching Arizona's pass coverage. They were unable or unwilling to throw deep. That's different from recent games when Hunter was running takeoff routes. Of the Titans' 10 completions for 40 or more yards this season, Hunter has caught four of them. He's a playmaker.
With Hunter in a three-wideout set with Nate Washington and Kendall Wright, the Titans have their best collection of wideouts in years. Taking him out of the game, especially after the way he had played in the previous month, was a major blow.
Whatever happened on Saturday that forced Munchak's hand, it came out of left field. Williams has been a model citizen in his four pro seasons and Hunter has impressed coaches with his selfless approach as a rookie.
But neither got the benefit of the doubt, nor should he. Munchak is old-school when it comes to such things. And the players know it. If he started cutting slack now, others would sense it and perhaps take advantage.
"Guys have to learn how to make better decisions," Munchak said. "It's very unnecessary and they understand that now. …
"Believe me, you don't want to be put in that situation as a head coach. You want to have all your weapons available on a Sunday, but they chose to do what they did and so that's it. They made a mistake. They're both sorry for it and neither one of them played."
Never mind that this is a bottom-line business where wins and losses, not by-the-book discipline, determine ongoing employment. A lot of games have been won by coaches who turned their heads when talented players missed curfew.
Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer won Super Bowls in Dallas while running loose ships. As long as you were not in a police lineup, you were in the starting lineup.
But that's not Mike Munchak's style. He made the right call.