- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- No offense to Sarah Hasselbeck, but in many ways when her husband decided to join the Tennessee Titans, he signed on for a second marriage.
Matt Hasselbeck and Mike Munchak are an NFL couple.
A new starting quarterback and a new NFL head coach can make for a new vibe, a new message, a new offense and a new direction.
The two are still relative newlyweds because of the lockout, but the early days have brought plenty of bliss, to the pair as well as those rooting for it.
It’s just three games. But the small sampling of their work together suggests the Titans can contend for the AFC South title.
Munchak is effectively conveying simple messages to his team and Hasselbeck is buying into them and passing them on.
“I just feel that my job as quarterback is, I don’t really care what we do, I just need to know what the coaching staff wants to do and then I can be the flag bearer on that stuff,” Hasselbeck said. “Whatever the message is for the week, let me know, coach, and I’ll be spreading the message. Whatever you want emphasized, I’ll make sure that gets emphasized.”
Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer have done well with the clarity and scope of those messages, Hasselbeck said. They aren’t vague or general or generic. They are game specific, opponent specific or specific to something the team needs to do better. As a Hall of Fame player, Munchak wanted those straightforward messages, not convoluted riddles that needed figuring out.
The Munchak-Hasselbeck relationship so far appears to be the sort most coaches and quarterbacks would like to have. That he’s not calling plays helps, Munchak said, as he’s sort of a buffer in the heat of the moment.
He’s seen his share of volatile coach-quarterback dealings. Warren Moon and Jack Pardee weren’t necessarily at odds, but Munchak did say their relationship wasn’t the one he wants with Hasselbeck.
“I want to have with him what I had with my linemen as an offensive line coach,” Munchak said. “A guy I can trust the way I could trust so many guys -- Kevin Mawae, Bruce Matthews, Jason Mathews -- I had so many guys I had relationships with who could spread the message on how to do things. ...
“Matt’s been around 13 years. He doesn’t need all the fluff. He needs the facts and he wants to know, ‘What exactly can I do to help? Let’s get to the point of this thing.’”
Heading into the Week 3 game against Denver, the theme was winning first down.
“I think Munch is a pretty straightforward guy and he does a good job of being to the point,” Hasselbeck said. “There is not a whole lot of gray area. As a player, that makes it easy; you go out and you know what your coach is looking for. He keeps it pretty simple. ‘Hey, I want you to win first down.’ Gotcha.”
In his first experience as a head coach, Munchak teamed up with general manager Mike Reinfeldt to plan a quarterback strategy after the team decided it was done with Vince Young. The Titans drafted Jake Locker eighth overall, but set themselves up with Hasselbeck, too, a veteran they believed could excel with top-flight pass protection, something the Titans' offensive line has offered.
If Hasselbeck tops 300 passing yards Sunday in Cleveland, it will be the first time in his career he’s done so three games in a row.
He, Palmer and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains talk of how there is no defense for the perfect throw.
Another way I’ve heard people talking about it is that Hasselbeck “throws people open.” I like that phrase. It’s something Titans quarterbacks haven’t done in recent years. It’s something he’ll have to do with players like Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins now that Kenny Britt is gone.
Hasselbeck’s consciously factored his experience with change while he was in Seattle into his approach in Tennessee, where the talk is already of a late-career renaissance.
“In the last three years, I think, I’ve had a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and I handled all three years a little differently,” he said. “One year I handled it where I was real assertive and wanted to get my way. Another year I said, ‘Hey, I’m just going to sit back.’ I’m probably handling this one differently, learning from some of my past mistakes.
“I’m not trying to impart anything from my past. I’m not trying to ask for anything I’ve done. I’m just trying to learn what they’ve done here and what they want to do here. I’ve kind of tried to come in here like I have no experience and no football knowledge at all. Because I’ve done that, my focus has been 100 percent on trying to run the stuff.”
The stuff has worked well enough so far. The new coach and the new quarterback are in lockstep. Smart messages are being well received. For now, it amounts to fresh air in Nashville.