This time last year the Tennessee Titans were one of, if not the worst team in the league. Worse yet, they were also one of the worst ran franchises.
Ownership appeared distant and disinterested. The coaching staff, led by Ken Whisenhunt, seemed stubborn and unwilling to craft a game plan and image that fit their personnel.
High draft picks were underperforming, and fans were staying away from home games like a plague had broken out at Nissan Stadium.
But those days appear to be gone after yesterday’s 24-17 win over the Houston Texans, a win that gave the franchise their first winning season in five years.
The Titans and Texans ended the season atop the AFC South at 9-7, but Houston won the division due to a better record within the division.
And while the loss to Jacksonville on Christmas Eve looms larger than ever, the Titans enjoyed a remarkable turnaround this season by winning on…and off the field.
Tennessee’s winning record this season was not the result of lucky breaks, a weak schedule, or happenstance. The Titans earned it…on the field…by beating some of the best teams the NFL had to offer this year.
The Titans beat six teams with winning records this season (Detroit, Miami, Green Bay, Denver, Kansas City, Houston), and all but Denver are heading to the playoffs. Three of those teams (Green Bay, Kansas City, Houston) won their division.
Head coach Mike Mularkey wanted to return to the smash mouth football identity of the team’s glory days with running back Eddie George, quarterback Steve McNair (RIP), and tight end Frank Wycheck.
While not in the same class at this stage of their careers, current qb Marcus Mariota, running back DeMarco Murray, and tight end Delanie Walker filled those roles masterfully this year on offense…and were all rewarded with Pro Bowl invitations.
Tennessee’s vast improvement on the field this season was a direct reflection of their success off the field in the offseason.
Controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk made a conscious decision to completely overhaul the franchise from top to bottom last offseason. To remove the stench fostered by years of losing, she brought in winners…starting with general manager Jon Robinson.
Robinson’s time in New England learning from one of the best ran franchises in all of sports paid huge dividends this season for Tennessee.
He brought in tough, smart, physical veterans like DeMarco Murray and center Ben Jones. And what do they have in common? They both won division titles while in Dallas and Houston.
Players with a history of winning and producing were invaluable assets to a locker room in desperate need of leadership.
As a result, the offense improved by leaps and bounds this season…which was the biggest reason for the Titans’ overall improvement.
Coach Mularkey also added winners to his coaching staff. New offensive line coach Russ Grimm won multiple Super Bowls as a member of the Washington Redskins.
The “hogs” of the 80’s and early 90’s are still regarded as one of the best offensive lines in the history of the league, so it should come as no surprise that the Titans’ o’line was one of the best in the league this year under his tutelage.
New offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie also had years of experience prior to taking the helm of Tennessee’s offense this season. He was a member of several playoff staffs, as well as a championship staff while with the Raiders.
The common thread among the players and coaches mentioned in this article? They are all winners…and winners cultivate a culture of winning.
To assist with a new winning culture, Adams Strunk also overhauled the team’s facilities while making significant upgrades to Nissan Stadium to make the fan experience more enjoyable.
But nothing makes the fan experience more enjoyable than leaving the stadium with the joy of winning, and the Titans did their part in that area as well.
Tennessee will enter the 2017 season riding a four game win streak at home, something they haven’t done in nearly a decade.
The front office is stable, the core players are under contract, and the fans are excited about the future.
For a team with a rent history of losing, that’s what I call a winning season on and off the field.