HOUSTON – Kordell Stewart stood in the middle of Radio Row a year ago in San Francisco and predicted big things for the Titans in 2016. At the time, he was in the minority, considering the team was coming off a 3-13 season.
But the former NFL quarterback, who played under Titans coach Mike Mularkey in Pittsburgh, said he loved the pairing with his old offensive coordinator, and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Then the Titans went out and won three times as many games as they did the previous season.
"I said they were going to be the second-best team in their division, and anything after that would be a bonus,'' Stewart said. "I said they'd be much, much improved, and they were, right? So they got what I predicted, it's just now they have to get Mariota healthy again.
"But I wasn't surprised at how well they did. Remember, I broke it down to a science on exactly how they were going to do it, and they did it the way I thought they would. That is a team on the way up. Next year should be even better."
Stewart, who played 11 seasons in the NFL, enjoyed his greatest success under the tutelage of Mularkey while in Pittsburgh. Stewart led the 2001 Steelers to a 13-3 regular-season record while throwing for over 3,000 yards, and completing 60 percent of his passes.
Mularkey was Stewart's offensive coordinator from 2001-03 in Pittsburgh. Stewart was elected to the Pro Bowl in 2001, and was named AFC Offensive Player of the Year.
Stewart thinks Mariota has a chance to really be even more successful with running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry behind him moving forward. He believes the Titans are taking a similar approach to the offense the Steelers did back in the day.
"How can you not like Mariota?,'' Stewart said. "If you don't like him, you're never going to like him. What, is his hair too dark? Is he too tall for you? The guy is a really good NFL quarterback all day."
Stewart played from 1995-2002 with the Steelers before playing with the Bears and the Ravens. Nicknamed "Slash," he was known for his athleticism and versatility. He threw for 14,746 yards during his career, and ran for 2,874 more.
Mularkey and Stewart were together seven seasons in Pittsburgh, with Mularkey serving as Pittsburgh's tight ends coach for Stewart's first five seasons with the team.
"The Titans didn't get caught up in the hocus pocus stuff that looks good for the fans," Stewart said. "They did what they thought was best to win. Now, they are going to tighten up in some other areas, get some more receivers, get help in the secondary, and they are going to keep building."
So, what does Stewart think happens to the Titans in 2017?
"Next year is their year,'' Stewart said. "If they can keep Marcus Mariota healthy next year, I think they'll win the division and then we'll see what happens."