Interview: Houston Chronicle's John McClain
By Jeff Fuqua
Posted March 19th, 2006
Over the next few weeks,
goTitans.com will interview a number of the media who cover the
Tennessee Titans. Our first interview is with John McClain, NFL writer for the
What is your
opinion on the recent free agency moves by the Titans and what other
positions or players may be considered before the end of free agency?
I think General Manager Floyd Reese and General Counsel Steve
Underwood, who negotiate the contracts for players coach Jeff Fisher
and his assistants want, have done a superb job with the cap room
they've had for the first time in years. Getting four starters so far
-- veterans with a lot of playoff experience, including two with Super
Bowl rings -- has been exciting and rewarding for the Titans and their
legion of loyal fans.
Fans -- as well as many members of the media -- may complain when they
believe a team pays too much for a player. Here's what I tell them: If
they've targeted a player they want, they have to do what they believe
it takes to get him. Take receiver David Givens, for instance. He grew
up outside Houston, and the Texans wanted him desperately. But they
could offer only $18.5 million over five years, including a $5 million
signing bonus. He wanted to come home and play for the Texans, and he
told them he'd give them a hometown discount. Agent Brad Blank wanted
him to return to New England, but the Patriots could offer him only
$17.5 million over five years. The Titans stepped up to the plate. They
did what they had to do to get the top free agent receiver on the
market. NFL scouts I trust had Givens rated ahead of Antwaan Randle El.
So Reese gave him $24 million over five years rather than risk the
Texans increasing their offer enough for Givens to accept less money to
play in his hometown. Not only did Reese improve the Titans' offense
with the Givens addition, but they kept the Texans, an AFC South rival,
from strengthening their offense.
Not only does Givens have a lot of ability and two Super Bowl rings,
but he's a first-class act who has leadership ability. He knows what it
takes to win and win big because he's known nothing else since he came
into the NFL and spent four seasons with the Patriots. I expect him to
surpass his numbers with the Patriots, whose style is to spread the
ball all over the field. But the question is who'll be throwing the
ball -- Steve McNair or Billy Volek? It may take a while for that
question to be answered. But I can tell you this from knowing Reese,
Fisher and owner Bud Adams for a long, long time: If McNair and Bus
Cook don't come to their senses on their contract demands, they'll be
in the same situation Eddie George was in. McNair should look back and
think long and hard about what happened to Eddie because he wanted an
extra million. And I guarantee you that Eddie regrets it, even if he'll
never admit it.
I think getting David Thornton was another good move. They need an
experienced outside linebacker. He's not big, but he can run and cover.
He's got starting experience. He's familiar with the division. He
should make a nice bookend opposite Keith Bulluck. Not only does
Thornton help the Titans, but his departure hurts the Colts. He's
another good guy who should help in the dressing room because he knows
what it takes to win. He also knows how bad it hurts to get to the
playoffs and fall short of the Super Bowl, which should be a motivating
factor for him when he tries to help the young players on defense.
Free safety Chris Hope is another player who knows what it takes to
win. He earned a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers. Like Thornton, he's
got a lot of speed, which is something the Titans need at safety.
Hope's still young but experienced. Think about where he's been the
last two years -- two AFC Championship Games and one Super Bowl
victory. He's another class act. Notice a trend here? Do you think
Reese and Fisher are trying to get some good guys in the dressing room
after the off-the-field problems they experienced last year? Hope will
make the entire secondary better because he'll be the quarterback with
a lot of range to make some big plays. The question is will he play
free or strong safety? If he plays strong safety, he's got to be a
force against the run.
Last but not least is Kevin Mawae, who's been one of the NFL's best
centers for a long time. Yes, he's 35 and nearing the twilight of his
career, but he's going to love getting out of the rat race in New York
and fitting into the Nashville environment. And he's going to love
being coached by Mike Munchak, who's simply one of the best coaches in
the league. Mawae has experience. He's a winner. The Titans offered to
match what Justin Hartwig got from Carolina, but he wanted to play
somewhere else. He owes a lot to Munchak, who turned him into a
multi-millionaire, the same thing he did with Jon Runyan. I hope
Munchak is on Hartwig's and Runyan's Christmas list.
As far as other free agents they're interested in, I'm not sure at this
point because I don't know how much money have available. They need a
true middle linebacker. I think they need another safety. Most of all,
of course, is the Titans need a running back they can count on, a back
who'll stay on the field. They need another Eddie George. There's one
in the draft -- LenDale White, but they wouldn't take him with the
third pick, and they also need one of the three quarterback prospects
How do you feel the Steve McNair contract situation will be resolved
and what terms and amount can he expect in a new contract if one is
At Steve's age and with his injury history -- not to mention his work
habits -- he should be happy to get a few million a year. Right now,
his one-year deal with a $23 million cap figure won't do. If he and
agent Bus Cook don't come to their senses, I don't think he'll be back.
I think Billy Volek will be starting and grooming the quarterback they
take with the third pick in the draft. Steve's made enough money. He
better not delude himself into thinking he's going to get richer on the
open market, even if desperate teams like the Raiders and Vikings would
check him out. I'd hate to see McNair sign with another team, but he's
got to be realistic with his age and injury history.
What changes do you think Norm Chow will make to the offense to increase production in '06?
First of all, Chow didn't play the way he wanted to play. When he was
hired, his priority was to keep Steve McNair off the ground. Without a
consistent, productive running game to keep the defense off balance and
on its heels, the Titans had to throw too much. Chow was forced to play
a dump-off game, which isn't what he wanted to do. It was what he had
to do under the circumstances. I think having a year of NFL experience
will help Chow, but getting David Givens and Kevin Mawae will help,
too. The Titans need for young players on offense, like the linemen and
receivers, to show solid improvement this season. And, more than
anything, they need running backs they can count on.
Will Jim Schwartz look to do anything defensively from a scheme standpoint to be more effective stopping the run?
I'm not sure what getting outside linebacker David Thornton and free
safety Chris Hope will do for the run defense. Thornton is more of a
finesse player. Hope plays too far from the line of scrimmage to be a
force against the run. Both will hit and tackle, but they're not
feared. If Hope has to play strong safety some, he's got to really
contribute on run defense. The biggest improvement must be up front in
the defensive linemen. Coach Jim Washburn is one of the best in the
business, and he's made Albert Haynesworth into a top tackle. He'll do
it with some of the other young guys, too. If the linemen don't play
the run well, the defense doesn't have a prayer of being good against
the run. Whoever plays middle linebacker must be a force against the
Who do you
feel GM Floyd Reese will consider with pick #3 and why? How likely is a
trade out and what would it take for Reese to be willing to do a trade?
I could see Reese trading down if he's sure he can get the player he
wants. Keep this in mind: Reese wants to know who Fisher and the
assistant coaches want, but Floyd's going to make that pick. Reese is
the one who took Steve McNair in 1995 when Fisher and the assistants
wanted players at other positions. Reese's philosophy is that when it
comes to draft choices, it's his butt on the line, so he's got to go
with the player he thinks is best for the Titans. His predecessor, Mike
Holovak, had the same philosophy. In other words, if they believe a
certain player is the one they need, they can't let others talk them
out of it. Remember, final grades on prospects won't be made by teams
until a couple of weeks before the draft. Vince Young and Matt Leinart
haven't had their pro days. Jay Cutler has. The biggest mistake the
Titans can make is to take a player the fans and media want. The only
reason they should take Cutler is because they believe he's the
franchise quarterback of the future. The same for Young or Leinart.
Leinart should be ready to play faster than Young and Cutler. And he
knows Chow. Young should take longer to develop, and he'll excel only
in a certain kind of offense that's tailored to suit his ability, kind
of like the Titans did with McNair when he was ready to play. Cutler
may turn out to be better than both, but no matter what you hear or
read in the media, almost every team still has him third at this point.
That could change. I expect all three to be gone by the seventh pick.
If one falls, I think it'll be Young.
you consider the top needs the Titans will look to fill through
the NFL draft beyond the first pick? Any particular player which the
Titans have shown more than usual interest in?
I think they need a physical running back who can stay on the field. I
think they could use a talented young right tackle to develop. I know
they need a true middle linebacker who excels at stopping the run. As
for who those players might be, LenDale White is the back, but they
wouldn't take him at three if they could get one of the quarterbacks.
Fisher and Reese nearing the end of their current contracts and with
back-to-back losing seasons, what record will the Titans need in '06 in
order to save their jobs?
First of all, Jeff has a year left on his contract, but the team
has an option for another year. If Bud Adams wants to keep Jeff, he
won't be going anywhere. That being said, Fisher's been with the
organization a long time. Jim Mora said the shelf life of a head coach
is 10 years. Marty Schottenheimer agrees. Fisher doesn't. At least he
didn't last year. If they don't finish at least 8-8 -- unless they have
a lot of injuries to key players -- I think it might be time for Jeff
to leave. He'll be snatched up in a heartbeat. Whenever Fisher leaves
-- whether after next season or the one after -- I believe Gregg
Williams will replace him. That's just my belief. No one's told me
that. I think Gregg deserves another chance to be a head coach, and
after the job he's done at Washington, he's going to get it. Nashville
would be the perfect city because he loves the city and the
organization. As for Floyd, he's got two years left, so he doesn't need
to sweat it for another year.
current Titans showed the most improvement towards the close of the
2005 season and may make the biggest jump in production next season?
I was impressed with Michael Roos, who'll move from right to left
tackle to replace Brad Hopkins. I thought cornerback Reynaldo Hill did
a superb job. It's time for cornerback Andre Woolfolk to show he wasn't
a wasted first-round pick. I think this is the season Ben Troupe
becomes one of the best receiving tight ends in the league. I was
impressed with the young receivers. Defensive end Travis LaBoy showed a
lot of improvement and should continue to get better. Reese and his
staff have done a good job of rebuilding the offensive line, defensive
line and wide receiver over the last three years. Those are not
indicated at the end of the '05 season that the Titans had some locker
room issues and that the team lacked discipline and leadership. How
will Fisher & Co get that resolved?
They've addressed it with every move they've made in free agency. The
problem was Pacman Jones dividing the team. I've said on 104.5 The Zone
with George, Willy and Darren that I would have brought back Eddie
George and told him that his primary responsibility, other than
short-yardage situations and playing when Chris Brown and Travis Henry
were injured -- would be to mentor Pacman. Eddie is the hardest worker
I've ever seen for such a big star. He led by example. You can't have
too many Eddie Georges. And if I were Jeff Fisher, I would have told
Eddie that if he had to, just go ahead and beat the crap out of Pacman
to get his attention. Pacman needs leadership and guidance on that
team. There's no one he looks up to enough to pay attention to. He
listens to everyone, and they think he'll put it to use, but so far, he
hasn't. Perhaps he'll stay clean during the offseason, gain some
maturity and show up with a new attitude. That being said, Pacman can
play, and I wouldn't cut him. I'd just have a player to beat the hell
out of him every time he screwed up.
Though it is
early, what would you predict as the final regular season record for
the Titans in 2006? How will the AFC South play out? And how long until
the Titans are playoff contenders again?
This is impossible to predict at a time like this, but since my picks
probably won't be any better when I make them before training camp,
here goes: I think the Colts will drop down a little and finish 11-5. I
look for Jacksonville to be 11-5 or 10-6. I see the Titans and Texans
making the most improvement -- the Titans because they've upgraded
their roster with free agency and the draft and the Texans because
they've got much better coaching than last season when they were a
league-worst 2-14. Let's pick the Titans at 8-8, depending on who
starts at quarterback and how well he plays. Let's pick the Texans for
6-10. In other words, the AFC South is getting tighter.
covered the Oilers from 1977 through 1996 when they left for Tennessee
and currently covers the NFL and Texans. He is a past president of the
Pro Football Writers of America and a member of both the Pro Football
Hall of Fame Selection Committee and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame
Selection Committee. He can be heard on 104.5 The Zone Tuesday's from 2
until 3 p.m. and Wednesdays from 4 until 6 p.m. He does a July
fundraiser every year to benefit the Charles Davis Foundation. His
article archive at
the Houston Chronicle website can be found here.