Derrick Morgan starred at Georgia Tech and later played for Ken Whisenhunt for 1-1/2 seasons with the Tennessee Titans. The nine-year NFL veteran’s perspective on Whisenhunt’s candidacy to be Tech’s next head coach is more informed than virtually anyone.
His response when he first heard that Whisenhunt, the Tech grad who is now the offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers, was interviewing for the job:
“I hope he gets the job,” Morgan told the AJC. “He’s a good coach.”
In an interview Tuesday at the Titans’ headquarters, the 2009 ACC defensive player of the year spoke with respect and appreciation for Whisenhunt. Four other players who still remain with the team from Whisenhunt’s brief and unsuccessful 23-game tenure as head coach in 2014-15 spoke similarly, for the most part.
“I’m just telling you my experience,” Morgan said. “I don’t know if that translates to success in college, I don’t know. I just know, like I said, as a coach and as a person, I thought he was a good coach, good person.”
Whisenhunt remains the only reported candidate that athletic director Todd Stansbury has interviewed. On Tuesday, 680 the Fan personality Brian Finneran gave a report that Whisenhunt had in fact been offered the job and had 48 hours to accept it. In an email to donors and season-ticket holders Tuesday, Stansbury said that he has been “actively working to identify the very best fit for Georgia Tech” and that the process “is ongoing.”
Morgan said that Whisenhunt had “a great football mind.” Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan described him as matter of fact and extremely smart.
“He’s got an answer for just about everything,” Lewan said.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was drafted second overall in 2015 (Whisenhunt’s second season), spoke highly of Whisenhunt.
“For me, personally, he was great,” Mariota said. “I can’t say what he’d be able to do at the college level, but I have a lot of respect for him. I think he helped me a lot in my growth as a player when I got to the league.”
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said that Whisenhunt was accommodating to players, making time to meet with them in his office and having an open mind to their suggestions. He also said that Whisenhunt was in a tough situation with a team that dealt with a slew of injuries.
“Everybody’s got different feelings about him,” Casey said. “I like him more so for off-the-field things that he’s done, not necessarily for his attributes on the field.”
Morgan’s assessment of Whisenhunt’s 3-20 record as Titans head coach:
“There’s a lot of reasons. He had a season and a half, so he didn’t have a lot of time. The roster was a lot different. He had seven games with Marcus as a rookie, and I don’t think he had a lot of time.”
Lewan’s response to criticism that Whisenhunt didn’t do enough to protect Mariota in the pocket (the Titans allowed a league-high 54 sacks in his rookie season in 2015, although Whisenhunt was fired with nine games remaining):
“I just work here. People can have their opinions on Ken as much as they want. My opinion is I think he’s a great coach.”
Asked if he was innovative – an attribute that Stansbury said he will look for in candidates – Casey responded, “I wouldn’t necessarily say that.”
Defensive lineman DaQuan Jones called him a great coach and a great person.
“I’ve got a lot of love for the guy, but as far as football-wise, it just didn’t pan out,” he said.
What about as a coach at their colleges?
Jones (Penn State): “If (James) Franklin were to leave and Whisenhunt went there and got to coach, it’d be good to see, just because I know I had him here, I know what kind of guy he is. I think he’d have much success going forward.”
Lewan (Michigan): “If Michigan’s job was open, I would hope that there were people a little smarter than me when it came to football that would make that decision, but I think if the Michigan job was open and Ken was a guy that they were looking at, I think it’d be for good reason. I think he’s going to be a really good coach regardless of where he’s at.”
Casey (USC): “Nah. I love him. (But) I wouldn’t say that, bro.”
Mariota (Oregon): “If he decides if he wants to go that way or if the university ever wanted to do that, I’d support whatever the university wants to do.” (Mariota’s response was seen by observers as a typically deferential response, not a veiled opinion of Whisenhunt.)
Morgan said he thought Whisenhunt would be OK dealing with younger players, noting how many young players are on NFL rosters.
“I think if he gets the job, he’ll be a good acquisition,” Morgan said.