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Hearing from the Titans

Posted Sep 4, 2013

Titans Coach Mike Munchak and running back Chris Johnson talk about this Sunday’s game against the Steelers.

Titans Coach Mike Munchak

You’re one of a handful of Hall of Fame players who have become head coaches. Why did you want to get into coaching and why do you think only a small number of coaches take that route?
As players, you see what the coach’s life is all about and you’re not real excited about what you see a lot of times. Coaching is not what I thought I would do when I was playing with the Oilers. I thought if I got into coaching it would be at the high school level and I thought maybe something in management or more of a business route, so I thought maybe I would try to get more into the front office when I was a player. Then when I retired, I kind of went that direction, thinking I was going to move more towards the front office. That didn’t quite work out and the opportunity came to coach, which I knew I’d love if I did it, and Coach Fisher gave me the opportunity. So, that’s kind of how I got in it and I coached the o-line for about 14 years. I love the game, love being around it, love being able to teach the players, especially the offensive linemen all those years. So, that’s what kind of got me in the loop on coaching. I think some guys just don’t want – the years are tough. It’s tough to coach and just because you’re a good football player doesn’t mean you’re a good football coach. Or, guys that haven’t played in the NFL doesn’t mean – there’s a lot of great coaches, obviously, that have never played a down in the league. So, that doesn’t really correlate. I thought it was a calling for me, as far as coaching, I got into it and then the opportunity came a few years ago to be the head coach.

Since you’re still a young head coach, did you ever pick the brain of someone like an Art Shell or a Mike Ditka? With it being such a small fraternity, did they give you any pointers or any tips on what it would take to be successful?
I’ve talked to coaches, I actually just saw Art Shell at the Hall of Fame a month or so ago, and I think most guys from coaching kind of smile because until you’re in that position you don’t realize all the responsibility that comes with the role of being a head coach, other than just football stuff. There is so much more that goes on. I’m a young head coach, but it’s hard the first couple years to ask a lot of questions because you’re not quite sure what questions to even ask. I think until you actually are on the sidelines for the first time and managing a game, those types of things take a while just to do it and see if you really understand what advice you may need. At the owner’s meeting during the year, you kind of talk to head coaches more about more specific things, things they’ve tried or if it’s scheduling or hiring and firing coaches is probably the thing I was told was definitely the hardest thing when I first got the job and I 100-percent agree with that. Just to get the right staff and keeping the right staff is so hard to do for coaches, especially if you’re having success it’s hard to keep coaches on your staff and it’s hard to find guys to replace. That’s a huge challenge I feel. It’s not just playing football. It’s not just showing up on Sunday’s. There are a lot of things that go into that. I know I didn’t truly appreciate it until you see all the demands of that position.

There are only 18 Hall of Famers that have gone on to become head coaches. I think four or five of them were offensive linemen. Do you have any idea why offensive linemen make good head coaches?
Hopefully, it’s because we’re so well-organized. I think when you run a group like that, like an offensive line, there are so many moving pieces there as far as those guys playing together as one group, one guy making the others better and they do something great together. I think it has that team mentality where you may not have all the best pieces all the time, but together you find a way to go win football games and be successful and build a championship. I think some of those things and how we do things, how we look at things. I don’t know. It’s probably hard to figure. It still comes down to talent and having great players and that’s always a challenge, and staying healthy. There are only so many of those things you can control.

You drafted Chance Warmack in the first round. How much of a concentrated effort was there to rebuild the interior of your offensive line and get back a little bit more to the run game?
Well, it was a big effort. I think we showed that when the season ended. We had a lot injuries last year. Pittsburgh went through something similar, losing some very good football players on the offensive line last year. That’s kind of what happened to us and as the season went on it got worse. We knew we had a lot of work to do there and we addressed it in free agency with Andy LeVitre and with Chance Warmack as you mentioned. I think we went out and realized that if we’re going to win and be who we want to be and have the identity that we want to have here, it needs to start up front. Especially with a young quarterback, that’s something that’s also very important to have, a good running game and a good play-action game so you’re not putting so much on the quarterback like we did the last couple years.

In today’s NFL, is it more important for young guys to come in and play right away?
I think now it’s just assumed that if you don’t do it, even to quarterbacks now, only a few years ago, with a young quarterback there was general thinking that he needs two or three years to develop before he’s ready to step in. Now, because of what’s gone on the last couple of years and even at the quarterback position, people expect rookies to come in and make a huge impact at the quarterback position. Some guys can do that. Other positions are the same way. Offensive line is one. Certain guys I think, if the opportunity is right, like Chance Warmack we felt when we drafted him he’s the kind of guy you can plug-in and he’d be ready to play .That’s how we feel about him. He’ll have some growing pains, no doubt, but whenever you draft a guy of that caliber or that high in the draft other than a quarterback, those are guys you are assuming can step right in and help your team win. After that, it’s just a matter of developing them depending on the position. I think there’s such a need to win and improve and everyone wants success and no one wants to hear the word rebuilding. Sometimes it works where you can turn it around real quickly, and other times you can’t, just because it takes some guys a little longer to adjust or to mesh. For example, getting an offensive line together with five guys is not as easy as people think. It’s a process. That’s the challenge I think in this league and even in college ball, everyone expects that if you have one bad year then the next year you’ll be in the playoff and you’ll fix ever problem that you had. We all want that but it’s not always something that you can get done.

Did you look at David DeCastro when he was coming out last year? What do you see of him now?
I like him. I like his demeanor. I like the way he plays. I like everything about him. I thought when Pittsburgh drafted him they got someone who was going to be a very good football player. You put him next to Maurkice Pouncey, who I also thought was a very special player coming out, that’s how a team builds something like the Steelers have for years, getting the right offensive linemen to play the way they play there. I think he’s a guy who fits right in with that. I know last year it was hard on all of them because when you lose a guy, especially a guy like him early, it’s disappointing. I’m happy to see him back healthy and being able to do what he does well. I think he’s going to have a great career. He’s a guy who I liked when I met him and spent some time with him at the combine. He was a good pick, and he’s going to do a nice job in Pittsburgh.

Re: Gregg Williams and his excitement to be back:
He breeds excitement. I’ve known Gregg for over 20 years. When I was playing in the league, he broke into coaching, so I’ve been around him. I coached with him when we went to the Super Bowl in the early days of Nashville. He brings a lot of energy to the game. He has a passion for it. I knew that was a positive. I know the effect he has on players. Guys believe in what his plans are, and he has a way of making guys better than they think they can be. That’s a special trait to have. He’s a smart guy and he’s been a nice boost of energy for our defense and our defensive staff. He and Coach Jerry Gray, our coordinator, work very well together. It’s been a really good fit for us here and hopefully he’ll help us as we get started this Sunday.

What do you see in Alterraun Verner? He’s starting over a local kid, Tommie Campbell.
Just experience. I think he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. He’s smart. You watch a lot of tape and he plays the game within the game very well. He reads tendencies. Having experience I think helped him in that little battle those guys had during training camp, as far as who’s the best to start the season with. I think it made them both better. I think Tommie is continuing to get better and better. Alterraun is just more consistent, and I think in this game that’s what you’re looking for is the guy that can be consistent every practice and every game he plays in. I think that’s what he’s shown. He handled the whole thing well and so has Tommie. He’s still going to be contributing in a lot of ways on defense and on special teams for us. I’m glad we have both of them.

Will Campbell have more of a special teams role this year?
You’ll see him more predominantly on that, but he’ll still be part of a few packages that we do have when we do different things. I think a guy like him can play man very well. He’s a good-sized corner. He’s a guy that, depending on who we’re playing against, you may see him in a package where he plays more if someone is playing more four receivers, those kinds of packages where all of the sudden he is playing a lot more on defense than he would going from week-to-week.

What makes Troy Polamalu so hard to prepare for?
You don’t know what he’s going to do. He’s a fun player to watch, and I like watching guys that love the game and a have a passion for it. He’s done that since the day he has come into the league. I enjoy guys like that. You hope he’s not too disruptive. You hope you can still have success out there against the defense. No matter what their record is, the defense is always one of the best in football and he’s a big part of that. I think guys like him are fun to watch and he’s a guy that brings a lot of energy to the defense. When things aren’t going well, he’s a guy that can all of the sudden turn the game because he’ll make a play – just special guys like him, and he’s one of them.


Running Back Chris Johnson

You have said before that you have another 2,000-yard season in you. Do you still believe that?
Of course.

Why?
I feel like I’m still the same guy. Just going through camp and seeing the new revamped offensive line, I know it’s possible to judge how the year will go. There’s just a certain special thing about a season like that. You’ve just got to get hot at the right time. If that happens and if it’s possible, I think I’m the type of guy that can do it twice.

Re: Offensive line:
Those guys – we came in with the mindset in camp that we’re going to work hard and we’re going to try to reestablish the line of scrimmage. We want to get back to the old Titan ways, and we want to run the ball. Even if teams know we’re going to run the ball, we still want to run the ball. Just working with those guys and getting better and better every day at practice has just been a blessing.

What makes the Steelers so tough to run against?
They’ve still got a lot of veterans and are smart. Anytime you’ve got a lot of veterans, 10-plus years, nine-plus years, you’re going to go against a smart team. It’s not always about one team being better than the other team. If those guys are smart and know how to stay in their gap, that’s how they know how to make a lot of plays. They’ve also got some athletic guys that like to run around.

What has the addition of Shonn Greene meant to your backfield?
Having him come in here and get those tough yards, get those short-yardage plays to keep the drive going and down near the goal line when we’re trying to get seven points instead of three, that’s a big role and it’s something that this team could use.

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