NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Former Titans head coach Mike Munchak makes his return to Nashville as offensive line coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers when the two teams square off in this week's Monday Night Football matchup at LP Field.
Munchak, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, went 22-26 as head coach of the Titans from 2011-13, capping a 31-year association with the franchise as a player and coach.
He played guard for the Houston Oilers from 1982-93, earning nine Pro Bowl selections, before transitioning onto the coaching staff, where he spent 14 years (1997-2010) as offensive line coach.
On Friday, Munchak met with Pittsburgh reporters to discuss his return to Nashville for Monday night's primetime game.
Re: Going back to Tennessee and his experience of being 2-1 against the Steelers:
Well, I try to remind these guys that we were 2-1 against Pittsburgh. On a personal note it's just that there are a lot of special people that work for the Titans organization. I had the privilege to be a part of their organization for a long, long time and got a chance to work with a lot of people there. It's been a family atmosphere for me for a long time and so on a personal note it's going to be very difficult that way because that's the part I miss the most is the relationships and spending time with all the people in Houston and in Nashville for 30 years. That's rare and so that's probably the tough part. The business side obviously is a lot different. The game itself and I think that I really haven't thought about much because I've been so busy getting ready to play against the Titans. I think that probably the interesting part is when you watch them on tape that I know all the guys. Usually you don't have a personal knowledge of especially the defensive side of the ball. Myself, Michael Griffin and (Jurrell) Casey and those guys it's interesting watching them and seeing how they're playing after spending so much time with them.
Have you been in the visitor's locker room at LP Field?
No I have not. I have no idea where it's at so I'll have to follow (the crowd) like I do most stadiums (and) figure out where it is at. Once I get there I think it will be different once you get into the stadium for a place that I got there and the stadium wasn't even built. It was being built at that time and I watched how that city and that team came together (in) bringing the NFL to Nashville and all the great memories that we had while working there. I think because I stayed so long it's so different. I've never been through this experience as a player or a coach where I had to go back to somewhere different because I was with the same group for so long and spoiled that way so that's what makes it hard. I think of all of the relationships I have with the people that are still working there.
How much different is the team now on film than in the past?
Things change dramatically when you change coaching staffs and you bring in new coordinators. They are playing defense very similar to the Steelers play because of the guys that they've hired. Offensively it is different also. It's different but it's still the same players. I know them (and) I know how the play. It's interesting watching them and you find yourself rooting for them a little bit except for this weekend. I'm looking forward to the opportunity.
Is there anything lingering after leaving Tennessee?
No, I think the only thing that was really disappointing is again when you have an opportunity to work as a player then work as a line coach and then have a chance to be head coach of an organization, which is a privilege in itself to have one of those jobs in this league and to do it for a team that you feel like you are part of a huge family. You're trying to find a way to win with those people. I think that's probably the hardest part was that we didn't get that accomplished with that group of people. It wasn't just the players and the coaches, it was the support staff and the whole group. We were in this thing together. A lot of the workers there (like) equipment guys I had been with for 30 years. So that was hard to leave knowing the fact that we all didn't accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. The business we understand that it didn't work and you get so much time to get the job done. We didn't and we had difference of opinions in how to go forward and business is business.
Do you still have a home in Tennessee?
Yeah, still have a house. Haven't had a chance to go back. Everything happened so fast last year. Obviously Pittsburgh is my home now.
What are your memories of the playoff game against the Steelers in 2002?
I told the players today that I played this organization probably 50 times as a player and a coach. I know how important this rivalry is. When you play the Steelers I think any team, especially when I was in Houston and then in Tennessee, it was always a game when the schedule came out your circled (it) on the calendar. You knew what a big game it was going to be. You knew how important it was if you could beat the Steelers because we all understood the tradition of this organization because of playing them so much in the 1970s, 1980s and then obviously as the Titans. I tried explaining to them how the atmosphere is going to be when we get there and how important this game is going to be for them to win. Records mean nothing when the game starts. This will be a great atmosphere to play a football game in.
Have you sensed extra motivation from the offensive line in knowing what the game means to you?
I think they're having fun with it. I think it's something like anything. I think, like I said, they want to play well. We need to play well. After last week's game of not playing as well as we'd like, we know how important this game is. We need to win this football game. Obviously they want it too. Doing it on the stage of Monday night makes it bigger for everybody. I think they'll have fun with it but I think ultimately they're going to play as hard as they always do.
Re: Looking at their defense and their top three tacklers are defensive backs:
I like the way they are playing. When a team isn't having the success they want to have – they started off the season with a big win against Kansas City. They had some injuries at quarterback, which I know first-hand creates problems. It really rattles your team. They are a good group. They have had some games that they lost in the end. We are going to get their best shot this game, as we do from most teams. I know Jurrell Casey is a pretty darn good pass rusher, their whole group is. We are looking forward to seeing if we can hold up. We need to play well to beat them.
Is this a game where you think you can get more out of your running game?
In any game you want to be balanced. I think we want more opportunities to run the football. I think we want a chance where we can run the ball 25-30 times any Sunday, in this case Monday night. To do that you have to be successful doing it early. This defense has had games where it has played very well against the run. And when people have had a lot of opportunities, you get a chance to wear a defense down. That's what we haven't been able to do here the last few weeks. That's something we need to get back to doing this game.
Re: Game planning against a former team:
I've never had to do it with the offensive line there or just in general the whole team, putting that defense together and trying to do things as a staff. So this is all new territory for me, leaving and having to play against an organization I used to work for. That's probably the unique part of the business side of that. It's rare for me. Most people that have coached or played long enough in this league have dealt with it. It's different. I still have a great relationship with a lot of these guys. That's why I am looking forward to them continuing to play well, and just hopefully when the smoke clears on Monday night that we score one more point.
How did you motivate the team when you played the Steelers?
We've been very fortunate because as a team you really don't have to say a whole lot for. I think it's one of the teams, Pittsburgh is, that guys understand what kind of game it is going to be physically on offense and defense and the tradition that goes on with this place. This is the only team in the league with six Lombardi trophies and all that carries a lot of weight around this league when you play the Steelers. So not much needed to be said because they realized if they didn't come to play their best they could be embarrassed. That's how we felt for decades playing against this organization. That's why when I got the opportunity to work here it was an easy decision to make.