HOUSTON – Jerome Bettis looks at the Titans, and he sees a lot of similarities with the Pittsburgh Steelers teams he played on for so many years.
It's no coincidence.
Bettis, a Hall of Fame running back, spent eight seasons with Titans head coach Mike Mularkey in Pittsburgh. Mularkey was the team's offensive coordinator for three of those years (2001-03), and tight ends coach (1996-2000) before that with the Steelers.
Bettis, who arrived in Pittsburgh the same year as Mularkey, said he was thrilled to see his former coach have success in his first season as head coach with the Titans. The Titans went 9-7 in 2016, a six-game win improvement from 2015. Mularkey stepped in as interim coach in 2015, and was named permanent head coach last January.
"I was with Mike for quite a few years, and I am very happy for him," said Bettis, who ran for 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns in his playing career. "For him to get another opportunity and to see him make the most of it like he is in Tennessee, and to see what he is developing, it's impressive.
"He has a young, talented group that he is putting together, so it is going to be impressive to watch that Tennessee team in the next couple of years. They are just going up, up, up and up."
After being named head coach last January, Mularkey described his offense as "exotic smashmouth." Mularkey said it's a term used in Pittsburgh, when Bettis was a battering ram, and a very productive back.
In Tennessee, running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry guided the team to a No.3 overall ranking in rushing offense. Murray finished third in the NFL with 1,287 rushing yards. Meanwhile, quarterback Marcus Mariota continued to make great strides in Year 2.
Bettis said he likes Mularkey's approach.
"Mike is straightforward and fair, and that is what players like about him,'' Bettis said. "Really, it is all you can ask for in a coach. You want him to be very clear and concise about what is going 0n, and he is that. That is what you love. I always liked that about Mike.
"And the players he has there fit him. The Titans have a great tandem at running back. I always knew he loved big backs, and he loved to run the football. I think the Titans have two really good backs."
Bettis predicts big things for the Titans moving forward.
"Absolutely they are headed in the right direction," Bettis said. "They have a young core group of players that should lead them into winning ways. They have some really good players. And I am a big fan of Taylor Lewan -- he is my type of lineman. He is nasty and he gets after it. I like his attitude.
"As a team, the Titans are on their way."