NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When Titans coach Mike Mularkey stands on the sideline during the National Anthem on Sunday at Nissan Stadium, he'll take a moment to count his blessings.
It's something he's done since entering the NFL as a player in the 1980s.
"I am really thankful, and I always have been,'' Mularkey said this week. "I feel very blessed to be able to do this, for as long as I've been able to do it."
This Sunday, however, could be an extra special moment.
At the start of the 2016 season, Mularkey wants to make good on an opportunity he wasn't sure would ever come again.
He's very grateful.
"To have another chance, I am very appreciative,'' Mularkey said. "I am very blessed for this opportunity, I really am. And I am excited to see where this goes. It has been a good start. What we built in the offseason, how things went in the preseason, it's been positive. And I think these guys understand what it takes, and they're having fun doing it. I really looking forward to getting (the season) started."
Mularkey, 54, was hired in January as the team's head coach on a permanent basis. Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk elected to stick with Mularkey, who served as interim head coach last season, after interviewing several other candidates for the job.
At the time, Mularkey expressed his gratitude, privately and publicly. After serving previously as head coach with the Bills (2004-05) and Jaguars (2012), he wondered if he'd ever get another chance.
Now he has one, and it starts against the Minnesota Vikings.
"I think Mike Mularkey's a heck of a football coach,'' Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's building them the way he wants to build them. I think you saw with the additions that they made in the offseason what they're trying to get done."
Players say they're on board, and confident in Mularkey.
"Yeah we believe in him,'' tight end Delanie Walker said. "Personally, I am super stoked, because he was my tight ends coach for two years. We share a bond together. The feeling is everyone in here doesn't want to let him down. We play for each other, and I think he is putting us in a great situation to win games with the coaching staff he brought in.
"I think any time a coach gets a job he as to prove himself. I think he has proven to us he is a good head coach, and he is going to show it."
Veteran receiver Harry Douglas spent four seasons with Mularkey in Atlanta when he served as offensive coordinator with the Falcons.
Douglas said Mularkey has taken a positive approach with the Titans since replacing Ken Whisenhunt during the middle of last season.
"We believed in him from Day One, 100 percent,'' Douglas said of Mularkey. "I think a lot more people are now seeing he was the best man for the job. We are glad as players to have him leading us.
"I have been with him since I started my NFL career. He is a great coach, he works hard, and he wants the best for his players. He knows how to make it fun, but make it tough, hard-nosed football at the same time. Whenever you have a coach like that, it makes you want to go harder for him."
During the course of the offseason, Mularkey and Titans general manager Jon Robinson worked together to reshape the team's roster, through free agency and the draft. Robinson took the lead on personnel decisions, while Mularkey put his stamp on the locker room.
Over the past several months, Mularkey implemented his style on the field, and off it. He's held players accountable, while demanding a professional, hard-nosed approach. He wants to see a tough and rugged style of football on Sundays.
Against the Vikings, he'll get a chance to see just how much progress his team has made.
He's happy for the opportunity.
"I think the message from me has never changed,'' Mularkey said. "Since the day I first stood in front of them last year, in what was a difficult situation with the coaching change, what they heard that morning is the same thing they've heard day after day after day. They heard we were going to make changes, and we made changes. Everything we've said, we've done, and that's what they want, someone who is going to be up-front and honest with them.
"I think we've come together as a team. I think this is a very close team. I think these guys really care about each other. We want to win for one another, and we are going to do everything we can to be successful."
TitansOnline.com looks back at Titans head coach Mike Mularkey's 2015 season. (AP Photos)