Your coaching career spans five decades. What is different in the game now than when you began coaching?
There’s certain things that have not changed and there’s certain things that have changed. Let’s talk about the things that have not changed. The fundamentals of football have not changed. One of the things you want to do offensively, obviously, is in order for you to go win, the first thing you have to do is don’t beat yourself. That involves turnovers, unnecessary penalties, busted assignments, things like that, that really, the defense has nothing to do with. It’s all on you. Most of the time, it’s on you. Sometimes they can cause a fumble or an interception, but most of the time it’s your problems.
The idea of the blocking, there’s certain times in a game where, regardless of how the game has changed, where you must be able to run the football efficiently, and if you don’t do it efficiently, then some not-good things are going to happen to you if you’re not able to do that.
If you don’t make a third-and-8, hey, you just turn around, punt it and go, but if you miss a third-and-6-inches, it’s demoralizing to your whole team. When you get down on the goal line, how many times have we seen where a game was won or lost basically inside the five-yard line where a team could score and ended up not scoring? It happened in the Super Bowl. The Ravens were able to win and the 49ers lost right there. It was just a few yards. Those things haven’t changed.
The things that have changed are it’s a much more spread-out, wide-open type of game than it used to be. Guys have got to be able, from an offensive point of view, to play in space. You talk to defensive coaches, and they’re the same way. You can’t have guys that can basically play in a phone booth anymore. You have to be able to have the skills to perform to a standard when there is grass around you on both sides.
The other thing that never changes, you have to have a quarterback. If your quarterback doesn’t perform, you’re fighting that uphill battle all the time. If he does perform, then really, regardless of what else you have on the team, you always have a chance to win. I have been very fortunate. When I first came into the NFL in 1988, I came into Denver and we had (John) Elway. You had a relatively middle-of-the-bunch team if you took Elway out of the equation. All of a sudden, you put him into the equation and it becomes a whole different ball game. I was lucky enough I ended up going to the Giants and we had Phil Simms. You come here, you’ve got (Steve) McNair, you go to New Orleans, you’ve got (Drew) Brees. I’ve been very fortunate to have been around teams that have top-notch quarterbacks, and that always gives you a chance to win and win big. That’s what has to happen again here. You’ve got to put the pieces around the quarterback to make sure that he performs. He has a job to do, but the people around him have as much or more to do with his success than he does. That’s what you have to be able to do.
You pointed out when you were introduced that 30 tight ends caught at least 40 passes last season. What can tight ends do to be such a help to a quarterback?
There’s several things. Number one, the distance of the ball from when the quarterback lets it go to the time it gets to a particular receiver, the shorter the throw, the more accurate you should be, and the higher percentage that you should have completions. If you want to add 10 percent, let’s say, that’s a drastic number of 10 percent, but if you want to add completion ratio to your quarterback, one of the ways to do it is your tight ends and your running back have to be able to catch a significant number of balls. Your inside receivers, whoever they are, have to be able to do that because what happens is the throw is not so long, so that’s where your percentage goes up. If you watch Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, you watch those guys and they’re going to have a certain number of completions that you would sit there and say, ‘Well, I could have done that.’ That’s what they do. They know when to get it to those people. If you want to do things to help the tight ends, the best thing, if you want to do something to help
Then, you look at matchups. For the most part, it is very difficult for linebackers to cover, as compared to corners covering. If you’ve got some decent tight ends, they can win those matchups, and it’s a shorter throw. That’s what people are taking advantage of: New England, New Orleans, they’re the ones that come to mind. The Texans have done a great job with their tight ends. They get the matchups that make it very challenging, sometimes, for a defense.
Coach (Dowell) Loggains has talked about using tight ends to create mismatches. Where do you see Titans tight ends in doing that?
I’ve watched a lot of film on these guys but I haven’t talked to them about football and worked with them. I’ve got to be able to do that before I can really be able to say, ‘This guy can do…’ I’ve got an idea in my mind what they can do. I’m really not interested in what they can’t do. I’m only interested in what they can do, and now, the things that they can do, let’s go and become a real expert at those things and do the little things exactly right with those particular things and figure out, ‘OK, how can we use these things that they do the best, how can we put them in a position to really help the team win on Sunday?’ That’s the bottom line: what are you going to do to make the team win. Really, tight end play, this operation is very simple. If a running play is called in the huddle, you think in your mind, ‘What am I going to do to make Chris Johnson look good on this play?’ If a pass play is called, ‘What am I going to do to make Jake (Locker) look good?’ That’s not real complicated, but in essence, when you boil it down, is that not what you’re supposed to do because that’s how you help the team?