EARTH CITY, Mo. -- When he arrived as the new head coach of the St. Louis Rams in 2012, Jeff Fisher was able to get most of his original band back together.
Fisher brought many of his longtime assistants and friends such as assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, senior defensive assistant Chuck Cecil, assistant linebackers coach Joe Bowden and, eventually, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and linebackers coach Frank Bush, along with him. Noticeable in his absence was offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who had worked with Fisher in Houston/Tennessee from 1994 to 2010, mostly as his offensive line coach.
Of course, Munchak had good reason for not ending up in St. Louis: He was the Titans' choice to replace Fisher as head coach in 2011. Munchak led the Titans from 2011 to 2013, posting a 22-26 record before he lost the job after a 7-9 performance in 2013. During that 2013 season, Munchak and Fisher coached against each other for the first time, with Munchak's Titans coming away with a 28-21 win at the Edward Jones Dome.
Both coaches downplayed the matchup after it was over.
"That's something we can talk more about in the offseason and having bragging rights about who beat who," Munchak said then. "But this is all about us vs. them.
"Players are the ones who win the games."
This week, Munchak's group of players will have the chance to take on Fisher's players again, though the circumstances have changed. After Tennessee fired him in 2013, Munchak latched on with the Pittsburgh Steelers, returning to his roots as the offensive line coach. Fisher said Tuesday he didn't consider finding a role for Munchak with the Rams after he came available.
Munchak's impact in Pittsburgh was immediate. The Steelers allowed 33 sacks last season, down from 42 the previous season. They boasted the league's second-ranked offense and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finished tied for the most passing yards in the NFL.
Fisher wasn't surprised.
“He’s very, very thorough up front," Fisher said. "You can just watch three or four plays of their offensive line and say to yourself, ‘That’s a Mike Munchak coached offensive line.’ They’re very sound. They’re very aggressive. They’re very patient. They finish. They rarely make mistakes."
With skill position stars like Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown in place, the only missing piece was the offensive line to make it all go. But under Munchak, the Steelers have taken off and young players like guard David DeCastro have grown into some of the best at their positions.
As the Rams prepare for the Steelers this week, Fisher said Munchak has a knack for deciphering ways to slow down opposing star defensive linemen. Which means that he and his staff will have to be on top of things when putting together this week's game plan.
"Mike’s really good -- and what we have to adjust to is -- Mike’s really good at taking special defensive players away, especially if you have rushers," Fisher said. "I would expect they would pay a lot of attention to where (DT) Aaron (Donald) is and to where (DE) Rob (Quinn) lines up. They just don’t get their quarterback hit. Their game is about Ben buying time, buying time and moving around and making the off-schedule play down the field.”