By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
As the Browns started the third week of their quest to replace Rob Chudzinski, they added a former NFL head coach to their list of candidates and crossed off another.
The Browns interviewed ex-Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak on Monday for their head-coaching vacancy, according to several reports. He remains an option for the Browns and Detroit Lions, ESPN reported.
The Browns are not commenting on interviews as they search for their seventh full-time head coach since 1999 after firing Chudzinski on Dec. 29. Chudzinski went 4-12 in his lone season on the job.
Meanwhile, former San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator and Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt accepted an offer to replace Munchak as head coach of the Titans, the team announced. The Browns interviewed Whisenhunt on Saturday after he met with the Lions on Thursday and the Titans on Friday.
The Browns interviewed Whisenhunt twice last year before they chose Chudzinski. In six years with the Cardinals, he had a regular-season record of 45-51 and went 4-2 in the playoffs. After the Cardinals fired him following a 5-11 record in 2012, Whisenhunt spent the 2013 season helping the Chargers reach the divisional playoffs, where they fell 24-17 to the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Several national writers labeled Whisenhunt the favorite to land the Lions job. In the wake of his choosing the Titans, the Lions turned their attention to Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell as a leading candidate, ESPN reported. Munchak, though, is also in the mix for the Lions gig.
Before beginning their pursuit of Whisenhunt, the Titans offered to let Munchak keep his job, even with a contract extension, if he agreed to fire at least six of his assistant coaches, the Tennessean reported. When he refused, the organization fired him Jan. 4.
Munchak went 22-26 in three seasons with the Titans, including a 7-9 record in 2013. The Titans haven’t reached the playoffs since 2008.
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray were among the coaches Titans President and CEO Tommy Smith and General Manager Ruston Webster wanted Munchak to replace along with two of his best friends, offensive line coach Bruce Matthews and linebackers coach Chet Parlavecchio.
“I can’t fire someone when I don’t believe they should be fired,” Munchak told the Tennessean. “Firing someone is awful. Too many people were going to be affected. 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.”
Since being fired, Munchak interviewed to become the Lions’ head coach and the Houston Texans’ offensive line coach. He also interviewed at Penn State, his alma mater, before former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin got the job.
Munchak, 53, was a member of the Houston Oilers and Titans franchise for his entire NFL career, spanning 31 years as a player, assistant coach and head coach. From 1997-2010, he served as the team’s offensive line coach. From 1994-96, he was an offensive quality control assistant.
In 2001, Munchak, a former guard, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He earned nine Pro Bowl invitations during his playing career (1982-93).
Munchak joins a long list of candidates the Browns have pursued.
The Browns requested an interview with Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who’s a favorite to land the job, according to several national reports. However, Gase told the Browns and Minnesota Vikings he wouldn’t grant their requests until the Broncos were done with the postseason. The Broncos will face the New England Patriots on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game. NFL rules prohibit organizations from offering contracts to assistant coaches before they’re finished with the playoffs.
In addition to Munchak and Whisenhunt, the Browns have interviewed Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, according to reports.
McDaniels removed himself from the running last week after he reached out to the Browns following his interview and was told he wasn’t the front-runner, a league source said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the search. NFL Network’s Albert Breer reported the main reason McDaniels will stay with the Patriots is because he wants to create stability for his wife and four young children.
Munchak, Whisenhunt and McDaniels are the only candidates known to interview with the Browns who have previous head-coaching experience in the NFL.
The Browns, Lions and Vikings are the only teams in the league who still have head-coaching vacancies.
Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award Jan. 23 at the 14th annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards, the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission announced Monday. … Wide receiver Josh Gordon and offensive left tackle Joe Thomas represent the Browns this year on the Pro Football Writers of America All-NFL team. Center Alex Mack, tight end Jordan Cameron and cornerback Joe Haden join Gordon and Thomas on the PFWA All-AFC team. PFWA members vote to form the teams, and the results were unveiled Monday.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.