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VOL. 35 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 23, 2011

GM, new coach, top draft pick show how Titans have changed

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Change doesn’t come easily for the Tennessee Titans.

Owner Bud Adams has, in his old age, become patient enough to let things run their course. Time tells Adams if his organization had made the right personnel moves. No need for sudden reversals.

But now, with a new coach in place and quarterback Vince Young gone, Adams has a very different organization in place, one that seems 180 degrees removed from the Titans of old.

Three key Titans – head coach Mike Munchak, general manager Mike Reinfeldt and quarterback of the future Jake Locker – reflect that change, and it’s hard to imagine how they could be more different than their predecessors.

A major difference between Munchak and his predecessor, Jeff Fisher, emerged during Sunday’s 26-13 victory against the Baltimore Ravens. Who among us doesn’t believe that Fisher would have simply kicked the field goal on fourth down and inches in 10-10 game? Instead, Munchak gambled on a second-string running back in Javon Ringer, who took it 10 yards to the end zone for the momentum-changing touchdown.

That isn’t the only instance in which Munchak has changed team culture. He’s an old-school coach – players wear ties on road trips – open-minded enough to allow background music to be played during practice. He even let linebacker Gerald McRath select a playlist filled with hip-hop hits 20 years removed from any song I might recognize.

But the biggest change is the respect that Munchak commands throughout the organization.

Defensive end Dave Ball explains: “Munch is very detailed-oriented, very into the specifics and very into each player doing his job. He has kind of increased the discipline levels. Coach Fisher didn’t want to fine anybody at all. People rarely got fined and here, guys, if they are late or break the rules, they’re going to pay for it. I’d say they have upped the discipline level.”

In addition, Munchak is forthright in interviews, even going so far as to declare safety Chris Hope out of last Sunday’s game on Friday. He is far less about ego and image and far more interested in results and a professional approach.

And then there’s the general manager.

The man who hired Fisher, GM Floyd Reese, wielded plenty of power within the organization. His approach was very personable and hands-on.

From free agent signings, scouting a potential draft pick or structuring a blockbuster deal, Reese was in control.

When Reese fell out of favor in 2006, losing a power struggle to Fisher, the Titans went in a different direction, hiring Mike Reinfeldt, a former Houston Oilers safety who learned the financial side of the football business as a contract negotiator with Green Bay and Seattle.

In stark contrast to Reese, who was involved in nearly every aspect of the front office, Reinfeldt’s philosophy is to delegate to those around him and weigh their input before making a decision.

While Reese often took the lead in negotiations and media interviews – the press conference to release Eddie George comes to mind – Reinfeldt prefers to operate almost completely in the background, as he did during the Chris Johnson holdout.

Another example of a dramatic change will take a little more time to surface.

Other than wearing No. 10, Jake Locker, the future face of the franchise, could not be more different than Young, who held that distinction five years.

Locker’s attributes are hard work and the desire to learn to be an NFL quarterback by watching Matt Hasselbeck. His determination and thirst for knowledge have already been praised by teammates and coaches. Know this much: If Locker doesn’t make it as a franchise quarterback, it won’t be because he didn’t put in the effort.

Contrast that with the moody Young, whose questionable work habits and considerable ego often impeded any progress he made in five years with the Titans. There will be no reports of Locker skipping meetings with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town.

How much Young had worn out his welcome was very evident when Munchak immediately signed off on Fisher’s decision to jettison him.

The old cliché goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But give the Titans this: Once they determined that it was broken, the remedy to fix the team came from a completely different perspective.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.

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