On November 1, 2015, Tennessee Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk sat in the owner’s suite at NRG Stadium to watch her team take on her hometown division rival Houston Texans.
And what she saw that day changed the course of the franchise.
Houston pummeled the Titans, spiraling them to a six game losing streak for the second straight year under head coach Ken Whisenhunt. But it was how the team lost that concerned ownership.
The Texans defense treated backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger like a human piñata that day. J.J. Watt had a career high nine qb hits himself. Mettenberger was in the game because Marcus Mariota suffered a similar fate against the Miami Dolphins two weeks earlier, and was out due to injury.
Two days after the horror in Houston, Adams Strunk and company fired Ken Whisenhunt.
Adams Strunk made no secret of the fact that the health (or lack thereof) of her franchise qb going forward was a determining factor in the abrupt change. She also made no secret of the fact that, going forward, protecting Mariota while returning the Titans to respectability was of the highest priority.
In the aftermath of Whiz-gate, ownership laid the blueprint to do just that.
Adams Strunk cleaned house, and as a result, the Titans now have a new team president and general manager…not to mention a new head coach and coaching staff.
General manager Jon Robinson, along with head coach Mike Mularkey, went about the business of executing ownership’s vision of protecting Mariota this offseason.
They drafted tackle Jack Conklin with the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft, and brought in Houston center Ben Jones via free agency to upgrade an offensive line that was dead last in sacks allowed last year.
Tennessee also brought in running backs Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry to help bolster a rushing attack that was 25th in the league last season.
Coach Mularkey’s plan this season is to have a physical offense that pounds the ball, which takes the pressure off Mariota. The rookie was left scrambling for his life far too often under the previous regime’s stubborn pass-happy system.
And speaking of passing, the Titans re-signed the team’s best player when they secured the services of Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker for two more years.
Not only does the move keep one of the elite tight ends in the league in Titan blue through the prime of his career, but it also means that Mariota will have his prime target throughout his rookie contract.
A huge deal for a young quarterback that is still developing.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Titans retained legendary Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. In 2014 the Titans were 27th in total yards allowed. In LeBeau’s first season with the team the defense improved dramatically, finishing 12th overall in yards allowed in 2015.
As with Mariota and Walker, keeping LeBeau on board gives the defense (which is only three years removed from a totally different scheme) some much needed continuity.
That, in turn, helps protect Mariota and the offense.
For the first time in ages, Tennessee Titans fans enter a new season knowing exactly who their team is and what they are trying to do. For the first time in ages, the team has a true identity.
Whether you agree with the approach or not, you have to credit Tennessee’s front office for doing exactly what they said they would do.
Ownership kept their promise.