Steelers linemen find ‘extra incentive’ to play well for Munchak
In three years as Tennessee’s coach, Mike Munchak came close to putting together all the parts needed for a perennial playoff team. But injuries, free agency and perplexing personnel moves were too much to overcome.
Even though Munchak and Tennessee had a split that was less than amicable after the 2013 season, he devised the right game plan and the proper motivation for the Titans to win two of three games with the Steelers.
“I try to remind these guys (the Steelers) that we were 2-1,” Munchak said after Friday’s practice. “I had a chance to work with the Titans organization for a long time. It was a family atmosphere for me, and I miss the people.
“The hardest part was that we didn’t get (winning) accomplished with those group of people. You only have so much time to get the job done, and we didn’t. We had differences of opinion on how to go forward.”
The Steelers offensive line coach will return to Nashville, Tenn., when the Steelers (6-4) face the Titans (2-7) on “Monday Night Football.”
Now, Munchak is trying to fire up the Steelers to outduel his former team.
“We’ve been very fortunate because, as a team, you really don’t have to say a whole lot,” Munchak said. “I think (the Steelers are) one of the teams guys understand what kind of game it is going to be physically on offense and defense.
“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 the organization. That’s why, when I got the opportunity to work here, it was an easy decision.”
The Steelers need inspiration after getting surprised by the New York Jets last Sunday. Still, Munchak was hesitant to use his return home as incentive to win.
“We asked him how he thought about it, and he said we just have to go win the game,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “All he talked about was winning. He hasn’t given us any speeches about needing to go beat his old team. But it’s pretty significant that he spent 30 years there.”
Guard David DeCastro admits this game is personal and that it would be mean something to an improved offensive line to be at its best in a game the Steelers need to keep pace in the AFC North.
“Obviously, we’d love to get a win for him,” DeCastro said. “He’s good about hiding his emotions, but we know it’s an extra incentive for him going back home.”
Munchak, a Penn State graduate, spent 32 years with Tennessee and Houston — including a remarkable 12-year playing career with the Houston Oilers, with whom he carved out a Hall of Fame career.
“The business side of is different than the game itself,” Munchak said. “I haven’t thought much about it because I’ve been so busy getting ready to play against the Titans.
“The interesting part is that when I watch them on tape, I know a lot of the guys. Usually, you don’t have personal knowledge of the guys, especially on defense.”
Munchak said he will feel somewhat awkward going to the visitors’ locker room.
“I have no idea where it’s at,” Munchak said. “Once I get there, it’ll be different. Once you get into the stadium, a place that when I got there wasn’t built. I watched how that city and the stadium came together.
“I’ve never been through this experience where I had to go back to somewhere different because I was with the same group for so long. Obviously, things change when you bring in a new staff. They are playing a defense similar to what the Steelers play because of the guys they’ve hired.”
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, a former Steelers offensive coordinator, hired Ray Horton as defensive coordinator. Horton coached with the Steelers and was the Browns defensive coordinator last season.
“It’s still the same players,” Munchak said. “It’s interesting watching them because I find myself rooting for them a little bit, except this weekend. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].