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Respect for Military Runs Deep for Coach Mike Mularkey

Posted Nov 10, 2017

Game Program story: This story, on Titans coach Mike Mularkey and his respect for the military, will be featured in Sunday’s Titans-Bengals game program. Earlier this month, Mularkey was recognized as the team’s nominee for the NFL’s Salute to Service Award.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mike Mularkey doesn’t need anyone to remind him it’s Veterans Day weekend.

Yet it’s hardly the only time the Titans head coach thinks about the soldiers who’ve served in the military, and the sacrifices they’ve made for the country.

Mularkey is part of a military family.

His father, Jack, was in the Army, and served in World War II. A brother, Terry, served 20-plus years in the Army. Mularkey’s nephew is also in the Army.

It’s why Mularkey has made sure his football team is influenced by those in the armed services.

“I’ve been around it my whole life,” Mularkey said. “I know the training the soldiers go through. And what we do is minute, playing football. It is minuscule to what they do for us.

”I have so much appreciation for what they do for us and our country, and the sacrifices they make every day.”

This week marks the Titans’ Salute to Service game when the Cincinnati Bengals visit Nissan Stadium. Each year, the NFL and the NFL Players Association come together in honor of Veterans Day to celebrate and recognize members of the military as part of the league’s Salute to Service.

The league’s military appreciation efforts culminate in November with Salute to Service games honoring veterans, active-duty members and their families.

Earlier this month, Mularkey was recognized as the team’s nominee for the NFL’s Salute to Service Award.

The Salute to Service Award annually recognizes NFL players, coaches, personnel and alumni who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community.

Finalists for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA will be announced in January, and the recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 3, the night before Super Bowl LII, from 7-9 PM CST on NBC.

“I was very honored to even be considered,” Mularkey said. “I was completely caught off-guard by being recognized for it.”

Mularkey was surprised by officials from Fort Campbell during a team meeting.

Major General Andrew P. Poppas, Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, spoke to Mularkey in a video that played in front of the entire team.

“I can honestly say that over 32 years in uniform in this Army, I have never seen a more profound effort and commitment than you and the Titans have displayed for our soldiers,” Poppas said of Mularkey. “I am absolutely grateful, and I cherish the relationship that we have. Good luck in the future, and Titan Up.”

Players gave Mularkey a nice ovation at the meeting.

Since taking over as the team’s head coach last season, Mularkey has made sure there’s been a military presence around his football team.

Poppas spoke to the team leading up to the season. John W. Rosa, a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant General, addressed the players as well. Marcus Luttrell, the U.S. Navy SEAL known for being portrayed as "The Lone Survivor,” was also among the motivational speakers. Luttrell received the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions in June 2005 against Taliban fighters during Operation Red Wings.

Last year, Mularkey’s nephew talked to the team before a game. In the hallway leading into the team’s meeting room, a photo of Mularkey’s nephew and his unit hangs on a wall, with the soldiers decked out in full gear, in Titans hats.

This past offseason, the Titans traveled to Fort Campbell and spent a day on the base. Players went through an obstacle course, and Mularkey and General Manager Jon Robinson spent time with U.S. Army leaders.

Earlier, the Titans welcomed members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team “Bastogne” 101st Airborne Division to Saint Thomas Sports Park, where strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson put company commanders through a strenuous workout.

Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk did a tandem jump with the Army Golden Knights back in April. In the past, members of the 101st Airborne attended a scrimmage at Nissan Stadium, and during training camp Major General Poppas spoke to players at a team meeting.

A sign with the words “I Am Bastogne! Stay in the Club” hangs in the team meeting room.

“We have such a close relationship,’’ Strunk said of Fort Campbell, “and it means so much to us.”

“I think it is important,’’ Mularkey said of the interaction between the team, and members of the military. “It’s had a huge impact on our team. (What the military does) is not the same, but it is the same -- it is two teams both relying on each other and have each other’s back.

“Their training is life and death, and our training is wins and losses, and that’s the big difference.”

Last year, the Titans also held a walkthrough at the Marines training facility in San Diego. During the preseason, Mularkey donated 500 tickets to the 101st Airborne Division.

Mularkey has made sure his football team is influenced by those in the armed services.

“I think it is real life, and it does correlate with what we do here,” Mularkey said of the military. “It is teamwork, and relying on each other. Obviously the results are different – ours are wins and losses, and theirs are life and death. But I feel like our guys need to see as much about real life.

“There’s more out there than wins, losses, game plans. We are fortunate to be able to do what we do, and to have a chance to build a relationship with the military, which does what they do on a daily basis, it goes a long way. I think our guys appreciate them a lot more, and understand them a lot more because of what we have done with them. It resonates with these guys.”

In addition to Mularkey, the Titans have several players who grew up with a military background.

Titans tight end Delanie Walker spent part of the offseason on a USO Tour, where he spent time with members of the military.

Walker flew to the Middle East as part of a USO tour, which allowed him to see the troops and get a behind-the-scenes education about the military.

“It was a great experience,” Walker said. “We got to go out there and let the troops know that we do care about them, and we are happy what they are doing, protecting us. Really, that is why we are able to play the game peacefully. I was a great experience to see what they do, and what they go through.”

Mularkey will be decked out in the NFL’s Salute to Service gear on Sunday. When he stands for national anthem, he’ll once again pause and give thanks to those in the military.

It’s always special moment for Mularkey, and for good reason. The Titans regularly line up on the team’s sideline, side by side.

“It is paying respect to the flag that so many people have died for, and fight for still,” Mularkey said. “And why we are standing there, there is somebody fighting somewhere. It is a small token, and it’s total respect.”