PHOENIX – When Titans coach Mike Mularkey's vehicle pulled into the pristine grounds at the Arizona Biltmore here this week, he couldn't help but smile.
It brought back memories from 25 year ago, when Mularkey was at the same hotel for a conference. He was a software marketing rep for IBM at the time, desperately hoping to land a job in the NFL.
"This is the first time I've been back since,'' Mularkey said. "To think about it, and to think about everything that's happened since, it really is amazing."
Mularkey, set to begin his second season as Tennessee's head coach, is here for this week's NFL owners meetings. He's attended functions during the week along with other members of the team's front office. At night, he's spent time on property alongside his wife, Betsy.
Mularkey has the Titans heading in the right direction. The team tripled its win total in 2016 with a 9-7 mark, and there's plenty of optimism about the future.
Here on Tuesday, Mularkey took a few moments to reflect on his trip to the Biltmore in 1992. He was in his early 30s at the time.
"I was a software marketing rep, based in Minneapolis,'' Mularkey said. "They had an annual meeting and I came out here for it, just like this time (for the owners meetings).
"I was trying to get into coaching back then, but I had to make a dollar, so I was working for IBM. I was working with companies in the Minneapolis area selling our software."
Mularkey, who played tight end at the University of Florida and then spent nine seasons in the NFL with the Vikings (1983-88) and Steelers (1989-91), coached offensive line at Concordia College while working at IBM.
"But this is what I wanted to back then – to coach in the NFL,'' Mularkey said. " And the guy that hired me (at Concordia) knew I wanted to be a coach in the NFL, and he allowed me (to work at IBM). He allowed me to leave work, go do my job at the college coaching the o-line. He knew my intent."
Mularkey eventually landed an NFL job as a quality control coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994, and a year later he coached the tight ends in Tampa Bay. Mularkey worked his way up to being an offensive coordinator before getting a chance to be a head coach, first with the Bills, then with the Jaguars, before he landed in Tennessee.
As he retraced his footsteps this week – on crutches and in a cast after recent surgery – Mularkey couldn't help but get a little sentimental. His life has changed, and the property has grown as well.
Mularkey said he's thankful for the position he's in now, in Tennessee. He's also thankful for the experience at IBM.
"I enjoyed what I did (at IBM), I really did," Mularkey said. "I had to get up in front of large groups, and I think I did a nice job. For not knowing or understanding the product when I first got in, I think I did a good job of marketing it.
"A lot has changed since. I certainly like being in the NFL more than with IBM, but that experience helped me. I was honest then like I am now. If I didn't know something about the product, I always told them: 'I don't know, but I'll get back to you.' And I always got back to people.
"But what I am doing now, this is what I always wanted to do."