NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In addition to discussing the team's preparation for Monday Night Football against the Steelers, Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt fielded plenty of questions about his time in Pittsburgh.
The questions come to no one's surprise as Whisenhunt spent six seasons in the Steel City as the team's tight ends coach (2001-03) and offensive coordinator (2004-06). Whisenhunt said despite his ties to the Steelers, he's been able to treat Monday's game as he would any other matchup given how far removed he is from the team.
"I'm obviously grateful for my time with the Steelers," he said. "I've got some great memories from that, but they probably don't even know who I am there anymore from a standpoint of the players and the people that you go against. I have a lot of respect for that team and it's always fun to play a good football team, especially on Monday night. It's always fun to play against teams that you know people on."
Whisenhunt says he still has some keepsakes from his days in Pittsburgh, but only the ultimate prize sits on his desk at Saint Thomas Sports Park.
"I don't keep any of it in my office. I do have the Super Bowl ring with me but I don't keep any of the other stuff. I have it at home, some pictures."
The ring came from a 21-10 win against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL played at Ford Field in Detroit. Whisenhunt went against the Steelers in the Super Bowl just three years later as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, a game that resulted in another Lombardi Trophy in Pittsburgh's trophy case.
That game, Whisenhunt said, had far more personal meaning than the one on Monday night.
"When we came back in '08 and played them in the Super Bowl, yeah that game had some meaning because I was so recently removed from that (Pittsburgh) and still knew everybody there," he said. "It's a little bit different now."
A terrible towel isn't the only thing Whisenhunt took away from Pittsburgh, as his time with the Steelers shaped his mentality as a coach.
"Just probably the approach of how you do it," he said. "There are too many things to talk about in the scope of the job and what you're trying to do. Even the practice format, I've adjusted it some since Pittsburgh, but the basic structure of how you prepare, how you do the meetings, and how you do practice. There are some things that change because you come across some things you like a bit better. That's what this league is, you have to adapt."
Whisenhunt said that he and Ben Roethlisberger still keep in touch. Whisenhunt was with the Steelers when "Big Ben" exploded onto the NFL stage in 2004, winning his first 13 NFL starts.
Whisenhunt also keeps up with longtime Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, who held the position from 1992-2006.
"Yeah, coach Cowher calls me up and yells at me," Whisenhunt said jokingly. "I still talk to coach Cowher, maybe not every week, but whenever you have some strong bonds from emotional situations you stay in touch."
Despite being a great mentor, Whisenhunt said that the conversations are never football related in terms of x's and o's.
"He's a media guy now I'd never call and ask about that," Whisenhunt said half joking while also being completely serious. "We talk about things, but it's not at the level where I'm asking him 'Hey what do you think about this?' It's just more general about how everything is going.
Whisenhunt is by no means the only member of the Titans with ties to the Steelers.
• Wide receiver Nate Washington played for the Steelers from 2005-08.
• Defensive lineman Al Woods played for the Steelers from 2011-13.
• Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton spent seven seasons in Pittsburgh as a DB coach from 2004-10.
• Assistant DL coach Nick Eason played for the Steelers from 2007-10 and was a member of the Super Bowl XLIII Championship team.
• Linebacker coach Lou Spanos served as a defensive assistant in Pittsburgh for 15 seasons (1995-2009).
• Tight ends coach Mike Mularkey played three seasons for the Steelers (1989-91) and also served on the coaching staff for eight seasons (1996-2003).
In addition, former Titans head coach Mike Munchak is now the offensive line coach for the Steelers.
People might say that Monday night is just another game, but with all the relationships built over the years between the two teams, that notion is likely more fiction than fact.