NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans coach Mike Munchak knows he’s in rare company.
Sure, he’s one of 32 NFL head coaches. But he’s also only the seventh Hall of Fame player since the 1970 merger to later work as a head coach in this league. And Munchak has been in this league long enough to know he has to win now going into his third season with the Titans coming off a 6-10 record.
“This is my opportunity too,” Munchak said. “Only so many guys get an opportunity to do what I’m doing. I appreciate it greatly to be in this spot. I don’t want to let people down, and I want to give it all I’ve got.”
He joined Raymond Berry, Mike Ditka, Forrest Gregg, Art Shell and Mike Singletary as Hall of Fame players turned coaches when named the Titans’ head coach Feb. 7, 2011. Dick LeBeau is one of five men who coached before being inducted into the Hall of Fame since the merger.
Ditka won a Super Bowl with the 1985 Chicago Bears, beating Berry’s New England Patriots. Gregg also won an AFC championship with Cincinnati. Only Ditka, Berry and Art Shell have winning records as coaches. Singletary took over in San Francisco with nine games left in 2008 only to be fired after 15 games in 2010.
Singletary now coaches linebackers with Minnesota, and the Vikings wrap up the preseason Thursday night hosting Munchak’s Titans. He took a 10-year break from football before going into coaching. Still, he found everyone expected the Hall of Fame linebacker would be a great coach, and Singletary said it’s a tough job.
“You’ve got guys who were great players who loved the game and guys who were great players who didn’t particularly love the game of football but had great talent and were successful,” Singletary said. “For the guys that played the game that loved the game, I think they’ll be successful. To me that’s really what it comes down to, because if you love it then you’re going to be willing to do the work that’s involved to be the best that you can be.”
Munchak fits that criteria.
He went from Penn State straight into the offensive line of the then-Houston Oilers in 1982 as the No. 8 pick overall and became a nine-time Pro Bowl guard and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s. He retired after 1993 and became an assistant coach for the Oilers in 1994. He was promoted to offensive line coach in 1997, a job he held through 2010.
Munchak has talked with fellow Hall of Famers before about being position coaches. The man who feels much more comfortable in this job going into his third season said he finally got a chance to talk to Shell at the Hall of Fame ceremonies last month about his transition.
“He didn’t give me any good tips unfortunately,” Munchak said.
Munchak has known what he wanted, putting his stamp on the Titans’ building even down to rearranging photos and a new timeline to better display the team’s long history. He finally feels comfortable with his coaching staff after hiring five new assistants this year, including Gregg Williams coming off his suspension for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal.
“You got to change your culture,” Munchak said. “You want to do things differently. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
The roster also is a reflection of Munchak with a heavy investment in the offensive line. The coach was a key attraction for the veterans who signed this offseason. Offensive lineman Chris Spencer said he likes both Munchak’s charisma and attention to detail.
“The small details, that’s what helps you win games,” Spencer said. “He’s really good at getting guys on the same page and making sure everybody understands the importance of those small details. I think he’s going to be successful a long time in this league.”
Munchak has been criticized by some fans who want more emotion on game day. Center Rob Turner played for Eric Mangini, Rex Ryan and Fisher before signing with the Titans this offseason, and he sees Munchak a good balance of all those coaches.
“He kind of maintains a calm demeanor that you need in a head coach that only comes from having been earned through the fire of play,” Turner said.
Now Munchak has the same exact record (15-17) as the man he replaced after his first two seasons, and he knows what he has to do to keep this job.
“I want to be as good at it as I was a player,” Munchak said.