The rookie quarterback and the first-time offensive coordinator used to butt heads. Now, Ben Roethlisberger and Ken Whisenhunt trade text messages.
"We text and keep in touch throughout the season," Roethlisberger said. "It will be special to go against him again."
The Steelers' quarterback and the Titans' head coach are scheduled for a face-to-face renewal of their acquaintance on Monday night in Nashville. Their relationship isn't necessarily better now that they're no longer working together, but it's less stressful.
"I never really had an issue with Coach (Whisenhunt)," Roethlisberger said. "We butted heads, as lots of people do, but I don't think it was an issue."
Whisenhunt replaced Mike Mularkey (now the Titans' tight ends coach) as the Steelers' offensive coordinator in 2004. Roethlisberger, then a rookie No. 1 pick, replaced an injured Tommy Maddox at quarterback in the second half of what became a 30-13 loss at Baltimore in the Steelers' second game that season.
The offensive coordinator and the quarterback would win a Super Bowl together the following season.
"He was new at what he was doing in the NFL and I was new at what I was doing," Whisenhunt remembered. "I'd say that (head-butting) is probably natural for the situation. But I'll tell you what, he always worked hard and did a great job. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work with Ben. I admire the fact he's been such a good player for so long now.
"I'm not excited about facing him (on Monday night) because of the way he's playing right now, but I certainly have a great deal of respect for the pro that he's become."
The 2004 Steelers went 15-1 and eventually lost to New England in the AFC Championship Game. In 2005 the Steelers closed with a four-game regular season winning streak and then went on to win the Super Bowl as a wild-card entrant into the AFC Playoffs.
What was happening at the time didn't always happen by design.
"I know that the first year there (with Roethlisberger in 2004) it was a whole new system and we were trying to figure out what we could do, and the defense was playing really good for us; we were running the football," Whisenhunt recalled. "But I do remember there were many times when the plays didn't go the way we wanted them to and Ben made great plays out of them.
"So it always makes you look good when you call a play and Ben finds a way to make it a touchdown."
When Bill Cowher resigned at the end of the 2006 season, Whisenhunt was hired by the Arizona Cardinals to be their head coach, and the Steelers decided on Mike Tomlin to be their head coach. Whisenhunt and Roethlisberger first went against one another in 2007, when the first-year head coach and his Cardinals beat the Steelers, 21-7, in Arizona.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII over Whisenhunt and the Cardsinals, 27-23, in Tampa, to cap off the 2008 NFL season. The Steelers also won 32-20 in 2011 at Arizona.
The early head-butting the two exchanged in their Steelers' days might be traceable to game-planning and play-calling, as it often is in such relationships.
"Yeah, I didn't have much input early on," Roethlisberger said. "It's probably because I was a young guy as much as anything. It was kind of Coach's way. And I think some of that, too, with 'Coach Whiz' was because of 'The Chin' he had looking down on him (Bill Cowher). (Whisenhunt) had to kind of run it a certain way and that's just the way it goes.
"He was the first guy I ever worked with before I knew what it was like to be in the NFL. Just the communication, talking to him and understanding the game, I think he worked so well with me and Coach (Mark) Whipple, my quarterbacks coach at the time, just to help a young guy understand what the game of football is all about."