It is one of the worst things that can happen to a professional sports’ franchise. Anger, frustration, and even pure hatred are almost more desirable than apathy. You want the fans of your team to feel something, anything. But sometimes, things get so bad that apathy is the only reaction that feels natural.
That is where the Tennessee Titans have been for the past few seasons. Due to a mind-numbing combination of poor on-the-field performance and astounding incompetence from the ownership, the franchise has found itself as the laughing stock of the NFL. The Titans don’t merely lack respect from the rest of the league and the media; they aren’t even taken seriously.
If you have followed this team with any level of attention, you are familiar with the problems. It has been a slow decline that began during the final years of the Jeff Fisher era, accelerated during the Mike Munchak era, and then took a dive off a cliff during the Ken Wisenhunt era. The coaches were only part of the problem. General managers have failed this franchise. Ownership has been awful. From the top down, the Tennessee Titans have been an embarrassing and pathetic football organization for nearly a decade.
Do we have any reason to believe the team is going to be any better in 2016 than they have been in the recent past? I say yes. Tentatively. Let’s look at three major areas that seem to indicate that the franchise has finally turned the corner.
When Amy Adams Strunk took over as controlling owner, replacing Tommy Smith, the move was met with skepticism. That is not to say anyone was happy with the job Tommy Smith had been doing. On the contrary. The Smith reign gave us Ken Wisenhunt. Do I need to say more? Amy Adams Strunk didn’t immediately win fans over. She did not do interviews and did not appear at press conferences when big announcements were made. She stayed in the background, allowing others to speak on her behalf. That angered some fans, thinking that it showed a lack of concern on her part.
Frankly, anyone that made a big deal of her lack of public speaking looks foolish now. She may not have given any award winning speeches, but her actions behind the scenes proved that she was not content with letting things remain the way they were. She fired the head coach, Ken Wisenhunt, after only seven games of the 2015 season. It was more than deserved. After the season was over, she fired General Manager, Ruston Webster. Also deserved. All this to say: Outside of some questions regarding her choice as Head Coach, every move she has made since taking over as the controlling owner has been positive.
A new General Manager
After Amy Adams Strunk fired Webster, she replaced him with new GM Jon Robinson. At this point in time, we have no way to fully evaluate that hiring, or the decisions Robinson has made as GM, but the signs all seem to be positive. He made a virtually unheard of trade of the first pick in the 2016 draft, picking up a bevy of picks. Prior to that, he traded for Demarco Murray, solidifying the running back position without having to give up much of anything.
Robinson has made a point of signing and drafting character guys. Guys that have been leaders on other teams, in the NFL or in college. Players that have produced and are not just potential. Robinson has had a plan that is apparent from the outside. That is more than can be said about the previous two general managers. We don’t know at this point if his plan is a good one, but right now I’ll take any plan over what seemed like blindly throwing darts at the draft board.
It is true that Mariota has only played one season in the NFL. An injury plagued season at that. Yet, anyone that watched him play saw something special. We saw something we haven’t seen since Steve McNair played quarterback for the Titans. Mariota is everything a franchise QB needs to be. He is supremely gifted and smart. He is a hard worker and leads by example. From all appearances, he has unimpeachable character, on and off the field.
As much as I wanted to see Jake Locker become the franchise QB this team needed, he never could stay healthy long enough to develop into a quality starter. Mariota is already farther along in his development, after one season, than Locker ever was in his short NFL career. Every franchise needs stability at the quarterback position. For the first time since number 9 took the field, it truly looks like the Titans have just that.
I realize this is a limited sampling and that the situation is vastly more complex. Still, I feel that any franchise that has these three areas in sync is a franchise that can’t help but be successful. Let’s hope Amy Adams Strunk, Jon Robinson, and Marcus Mariota are able to bring back respectability, success, and passion to the franchise. From my perspective, they have taken the first small steps to winning back the fan base.
What do you think? Do you feel the organization is on the right track? What else do they need to do to give you confidence things are going to get better?