Munchak hires ex-Oilers Gray, Palmer to his first Titans staff

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- New Titans coach Mike Munchak insists that having worked or played for the old Houston Oilers isn't a prerequisite to join his coaching staff.

It just seems that way.

Munchak introduced former Oilers teammate Jerry Gray as his new defensive coordinator Tuesday, about an hour after the Titans announced the hiring of Chris Palmer as offensive coordinator. Palmer's first job in the NFL was with the Oilers as wide receivers coach between 1990 and 1992 -- when Munchak still played for the franchise.

"That's not something I even think about when I'm looking at people," Munchak said. "It just happens it's been falling that way so far. I think that's a good thing. There must be a reason it's happening that way."

Munchak's first hire was former Oilers teammate and Hall of Fame lineman Bruce Matthews to replace himself coaching the offensive line. Munchak still has to hire a receivers assistant, running backs coach and defensive line coach along with a couple other assistants, and he wants to wrap up his staff by the time the NFL Scouting Combine starts Feb. 24.

He couldn't be happier that Gray accepted his job offer.

They had been teammates with the then-Houston Oilers, and Munchak was offensive line coach when Gray became defensive quality-control assistant in 1997 with the then-Tennessee Oilers. Gray coached the defensive backs when the Titans went to the 2000 Super Bowl and followed up with a 13-3 record the next season.

Gray left after the 2000 season and joined Gregg Williams in Buffalo as the Bills' defensive coordinator, so Munchak said he got to coach against Gray's defenses. Munchak didn't think long when targeting the man he wanted as his defensive coordinator.

"I knew him as a player, as a coach and as a coordinator," Munchak said. "I got to witness all three of those over a 20-year span."

Gray couldn't pass up the chance to be a defensive coach in the NFL, where he believes he fits best. Gray said Tuesday that about 10 of his former players -- including cornerback Samari Rolle to linebacker Takeo Spikes -- called and encouraged him to return to the league.

Joining Munchak meant Gray had to switch jobs after spending a month in his last new job as the University of Texas' defensive backs and assistant head coach, a move that hasn't been very popular with Longhorns fans. But Munchak offered Gray a rare opportunity at one of just 32 defensive coordinator jobs and the chance to work on Sundays.

"The position was different, gives me a chance to make calls on Sunday as compared to listening to the calls being made on Saturday," Gray said. "It's not a dictatorship, but I think I'm at my best on Sundays."

Munchak wants flexibility in his defensive coordinator, and Gray knows the 4-3 scheme well, but he got some exposure to the 3-4 while working as the Seattle Seahawks' defensive backs coach in 2010. But Gray said he knows well enough to be flexible and fit his defense to what his players do best. He also focuses his defenders on a couple options to avoid overthinking on the field.

Gray has his work cut out for him in Tennessee.

The Titans went 6-10 this past season, ranked 26th in total yards allowed and 29th in passing yards allowed (252 yards per game), and were on the field longer than any other NFL defense. But they ranked eighth with 40 sacks and tied for 11th in interceptions. Gray already has studied five or six games and said he saw the Titans missing a lot of close plays.

Said gray: "Now if you make those plays, you go 13-3 like we did in 1999 and 2000. If you miss those, you don't. That's the biggest difference I think in winning or losing in the NFL is that fine a line."

Gray wants to call the Titans' defensive players as soon as possible and introduce himself, but time is running out before the current labor deal expires March 3. Coaches won't be able to contact players without a new labor agreement.

Munchak isn't sharing how many people he talked to before hiring Palmer, 61, to coordinate his offense. Munchak wouldn't say how many teams the Titans contacted for permission to talk to coaches about that job or how many said no. NFL rules only allow coaches under contract to talk to other teams for promotions to head coach.

Munchak met with Palmer over the past couple days and hired the man with plenty of experience who also had the same job with two other AFC South teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans. Palmer was head coach of the Cleveland Browns when they returned as an expansion franchise, and he won a Super Bowl ring as quarterbacks coach with the New York Giants.

Palmer has coached in the NFL, USFL and CFL, and he was head coach of the UFL's Hartford Colonels last season. He also has groomed quarterbacks from Mark Brunell to David Carr to Manning, a skill the Titans will need. They will trade or release Vince Young this offseason and are in the market for a new quarterback through the draft or via trade.

"The quarterback situation, we don't know what that's going to be," Munchak said. "He's been around a lot of great quarterbacks. He's done a great job developing a lot of guys in the league. He has a great demeanor for it."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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