Surrounded by his position group…dressed in an all white suit with the matching hat…cigar in hand….Tennessee Titans’ Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan stood before the media yesterday as the highest paid lineman in the history of the NFL.
Donning the image of Boss Hogg from the 80’s television series “The Dukes of Hazzard”, Lewan smiled as he soaked in the adulation that comes with being rewarded for all of the blood, sweat, tears, setbacks, and sacrifices made to get to this point.
And before he called it a night, I hope that he sent a heartfelt thank you to his former coach….Mike Mularkey.
Mularkey was a position coach for the Titans when they selected Lewan with the 11th overall pick of the 2014 draft, and I am sure he must have been surprised when head coach Ken Whisenhunt made the unproven rookie a team captain.
Lewan was talented, no doubt, but he was undisciplined and unreliable at that point of his career. Two things that should never be associated with leadership.
He was somewhat of a media hound, often giving public sound bites on how the team must play smart. Then on Sunday it was Lewan himself that made the costly bonehead play or penalty.
The repeated offenses started to rub his teammates the wrong way as the losses continued to mount. The Titans lost their final eleven games that season.
After a slow start to the 2015 season coach Whisenhunt was fired, and Mularkey was named interim coach. One of his first moves as head coach was stripping Lewan of his captaincy.
Not only that, Lewan’s banner was also removed from the outside of the stadium and replaced with newly acquired free agent Brian Orakpo.
It was a low point for Lewan, who entered the league as highly decorated as they come after a stellar collegiate career at Michigan.
He spoke to The Tennessean after his 2015 demotion. His quote….
“It was a shot to my ego. At first, I was really taken aback and then after he [Mularkey] explained to me the situation and why it was happening, I was like, `Yeah, I get it. I totally understand that.’”
But to his credit, instead of sulking and questioning his ability to succeed at this level, Lewan’s follow-up comment laid the foundation for his turnaround.
“Whether I have a “C” on my chest or not on my chest, I’ll keep playing as hard as I possibly can. The “C” on my chest doesn’t mean anything. What’s important to me is having the respect of these guys based on my work ethic and how I play in the field. That’s the biggest thing.”
Mularkey demoted Lewan, but he continued to encourage and empower him that season…naming him the full-time starter to protect rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota.
While the Titans continued to struggle in the win column, a newly humbled Lewan quietly went about the business of getting better…and the move restored his respectability among his teammates.
So much so that he was reinstated, by Mularkey, as a team captain in 2016.
For the next two seasons under coach Mularkey, Lewan blossomed into one of the best young tackles in all of football, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2016 and 2017.
All of which set the stage for yesterday’s record deal.
No, coach Mularkey was ultimately not the man for the job, but his time in Nashville was instrumental in Lewan’s development.
And for that he deserves a thank you, at the very least, from the highest paid lineman in football.