NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans will gather in the team’s auditorium this morning and hear from Ken Whisenhunt for the first time.
The official start of the offseason program always amounts to a fresh start, but that is especially the case when it’s under a new coach and staff, with playbooks of new schemes available for the first time.
Whisenhunt will delivers that important opening message and players will commence with the initial stages of getting to know their position coaches.
In the early stages of the offseason, no member of the staff will interact more with the 2014 team than Steve Watterson, the team’s strength and conditioning coach.
Headed by CEO and president Tommy Smith and Whisenhunt there is a lot that is new for the Titans. Watterson, however, is distinctly old.
No one on the football side of the team’s operations has been around longer than Watterson, who was hired by the Houston Oilers in 1986 when Jerry Glanville was coach.
As the franchise turned from Glanville to Jack Pardee to Jeff Fisher to Mike Munchak, Watterson was a fixture.
But when Whisenhunt was hired to replace Munchak on Jan. 13, Watterson knew his 27th season in the Oilers/Titans weight room might have been his last one.
“Every day I get here since we move into this facility, it’s almost a ritual like morning prayers, I go to that back door where my weight room goes out to the field and give a little thanks for being here from what we had in Houston,” Watterson said. “When this team made a coaching change, I knew there was a good shot, I would even venture to put a percentage on it, that here’s a guy who’s going to come in, he’ll want to make significant changes, they want to change the direction. There was a good shot he’d have a guy.
“Getting the opportunity to sit there and talk to him I was happy. And getting a chance to stay was a exhilarating and is very much appreciated.”
Whisenhunt said he researched Watterson around the league and even with some current Titans players and got all good feedback. He was comfortable when they sat down to talk about philosophy and direction, and is confident Watterson is the right coach to be at the front line in disseminating a new message to the team.
“Steve is very good at his job and the players have a lot of trust in him,” Whisenhunt said. “He has their respect and he has their trust and I think that’s a big piece of it.”
Watterson loves to take on projects and do research. During the down time since the season ended and he retained his job, he’s been considering the optimal biomechanics for stretching and flexibility.
In the background, the weight-room was being redecorated. Whisenhunt wants to keep whatever is on the walls an in-house deal. Watterson thinks players will see and feel a difference and understand the new head coaches’ priorities.
The bulk of the roster already knows Watterson. Seven free agent additions will now work with him too, as will a draft class and batch of undrafted rookies when they arrive in May.
The things Glanville and Pardee and Fisher and Munchak wanted Watterson to preach and emphasize are in a drawer now, and Watterson is eager to convey the Whisenhunt way.
“You have to understand the direction that coach wants,” Watterson said. “There are things that are subtle and there are things that are dramatic. Many of the things that Ken brings to the table are self-evident. You’ve heard it in press conferences; players have heard it when they’ve talked to him directly.
“A lot is going to be direct from him to them. The rest from my area is going to be a level of accountability. He has opinions and expectations on what he wants to the schedule of what’s going to be done each day. It’s got to be a buy-in. Every thing he has presented makes sense and it’s been successful.”
In the past, the Titans had linemen workout together, linebackers and tight ends would be together, receivers and defensive backs together and quarterbacks would even be broken off with kickers and punters.
Whisenhunt wants the entire offense and entire defense in the room together at times.
“Accountability,” Watterson said. “Have them see each other working out. There are the ones that will go out on the field together, they’re the ones you want to see they are paying the dues together. See the sweat equity in the weight room as well as what’s going on in the meeting room. It’s very smart.”
With new coaches in place installing new systems, there is an uncertainty around the team now. Whisenhunt has said that early uncertainty is a healthy thing the team will benefit from.
Said Watterson: “Any time the ground shakes underneath you a little bit and you’re not sure of all the expectations, it’s a little bit of the unknown, that’s not all bad. It’s about a fresh start. You’re never going to erase the past, I tell the players this. Your film carries forward, your play and your stats, they speak for themselves.
“But in many ways, these guys will come in here and everything from personality, chemistry, their roles, the pecking order -- all of that has kind of been reshuffled. Now players get to come in here and reset themselves on a level playing ground.”
Most mornings, Watterson sees Whisenhunt first thing when the coach is in the weight room for a pretty aggressive, “fastidious, religious,” workout that starts with cardio and then incorporates stuff ranging from calisthenics to free weights.
With Smith and Whisenhunt in place, Watterson feels a cooperative spirit permeating the building. There is direction from Smith that comes with demands but also with help.
Never lacking for energy, Watterson said he feels reinvigorated.
Starting Monday, he’s got a big role in making sure players feel the same way.