Tennessee Titans: Matt Hasselbeck talks career with Titans, current team

Oct 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck speaks before the game between the Houston Texans against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 24, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck speaks before the game between the Houston Texans against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s no secret the Tennessee Titans have seen their fair share of quarterbacks go under center in a short period of time.

Perhaps one of the most notable of these signal-callers is NFC Championship winning quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck.

As a two-year starter at Boston College, Hasselbeck was written off by a number of NFL scouts as “just a guy” and “not draftable” in spite of having a solid college career.  He never received an invite to the NFL combine, but did manage to capture the attention of one person – the then Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Andy Reid.

Reid saw great potential in Hasselbeck, and drafted him 187th overall in the sixth round of the 1998 NFL Draft.

He would go on to play a total of 17 seasons in the NFL between the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, and Indianapolis Colts, finishing with a career 5-6 record in the postseason.

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I had the opportunity to go one-on-one with with the ESPN analyst on Thursday afternoon to discuss his career as a Titan, as well as the current roster in Tennessee.

When I asked him about the two seasons he spent with the Titans, he had nothing but great things to say about Nashville and the organization as a whole.

“I had an amazing, amazing experience in Nashville. I loved playing there. I sort of joked I’d never been to the south,” Hasselbeck said. “I grew up in Massachusetts… In Boston, I took a train to school every day, I was definitely a city kid. When I got signed to the Tennessee Titans, they had just drafted Jake Locker, who was like a kid on a farm who hunts. The other quarterback was Rusty Smith, who was a duck hunter. So it’s an interesting mix. You’ve got the old quarterback who’s used to taking the subway in big cities, and then the young quarterbacks who were outfitted in camo seat covers in a truck.”

But Hasselbeck says their differences in background never got in the way of them building great friendships while all playing for the team.

“For two years, we became very, very good friends. And really, with the organization, it was an experience I never could have imagined. It was truly amazing.”

He says he loved Tennessee so much, in fact, he named his own dog after the team.

“Our dog, his name is Titan actually. And when I got to the Colts, Andrew Luck was like, ‘what’s your dog’s name?’ and I said his name was Titan. And then he told me, ‘you’ve gotta change your dog’s name’… but he’s Titan, and he’s always going to be Titan,” Hasselbeck joked.

It’s easy to make the assumption that Hasselbeck played a bit of a mentorship role in both Indianapolis and Tennessee, but he claims he never really saw it that way and his coaches didn’t either.

“I would say with the old guy and young guy thing, the old guy gets a little too much credit in those situations, or I always thought I got too much credit. I went there to play. I went there to play and to try to win,” he said. “I didn’t go to sign with the Titans so I could mentor Jake Locker. I went there with the idea I could start and play to win, and Jake would get to be there while that was happening. That was kind of the mindset I took, and I think in the process of taking that mindset, what happened I guess, was mentoring in a sense.”

Hasselbeck also took time to explain that just because he was the older, more experienced quarterback in Tennessee didn’t necessarily mean there was nothing to gain from his younger counterparts.

“I feel like we learned from each other. They taught me just as much as I taught them, if not more. And if anything on the football field was taught to them, I hope it was that competitive nature in that we have one task, and that’s to win and be the best that we can be… that’s who I tried to be.”

But obviously things changed a bit at the position when the Titans decided to move in a direction that included Jake Locker as the starting quarterback.

“Mike Munchak gave me great advice. He was like ‘We picked Jake eighth overall and we want him to be our quarterback for the future. But we’re gonna go at his pace, and we want you to play. But here’s what we need you to do. We don’t need you to coach him, we don’t need you to mentor him, we just need you to be you. We need you to be a pro and play quarterback. You don’t need to be the coach, the big brother, you just need to be the quarterback and that’s it.’ And that was a freeing thing to hear.”

Unfortunately, things could not have gone much worse for the Titans with Jake Locker at the helm. Locker looked great out of the gate, but was unable to ever bounce back from a pair of major injuries in the 2013 season.

Shortly after, Locker went into retirement and the Titans turned to what would end up being another failed experiment with LSU talent Zach Mettenberger. He too fizzled out quickly and will likely go down statistically as one of the poorest-performing quarterbacks the league has ever seen in its history.

But right now, it seems the Titans have finally found their guy in former Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota – and Hasselbeck agrees.

“I don’t know Marcus very well, but we do have mutual friends,” Hasselbeck said of the young quarterback. “Everything I hear from the people that know him is the same, and it is ‘You would love this kid. He is so great, such a nice guy, humble, talented, hard-working.’ They love him, and I trust their opinion. So for that reason, I’m a huge fan.”

Hasselbeck also spoke positively of the Titans’ latest hires, and the moves the team has made in recent years’ drafts.

“I really love what (the Titans) have done. I just really feel like they’ve hit some home runs in the draft. They haven’t missed on the choices to protect him. The left and right tackle positions are as solid in Tennessee as in any other team in the NFL, and the running game and the creativity of Mike Mularkey and that offense is really fun to watch, so I think it’s a great match up.”

He sees the Titans and Mariota as the perfect mix, and believes both parties should be thankful the situation ended up the way it did.

“As a quarterback, you don’t get to pick where you get drafted to. But he should say his prayers every night, and thank God he got drafted by the Tennessee Titans… And at the same time I think the Tennessee Titans should be thankful they got such a quality person who happens to be a very talented quarterback.”

While the fan base overall is very pleased with Mariota, some concern has arisen about his slight build and ability to stay healthy as the franchise quarterback, namely after his season-ending fibula injury versus the Jacksonville Jaguars last year.  But Hasselbeck couldn’t disagree more with the notion that Mariota is too fragile for the job.

“No, I’m not concerned about his build necessarily. You know, a lot of these guys are pretty tall and skinny. Tom Brady’s a very slender guy, getting even more slender as he’s changed his diet this past season. So, I’m not concerned about that.”

Hasselbeck did put a lot of emphasis on the importance of staying healthy at the quarterback position, and acknowledges it’s something Mariota needs to make a priority.

“I’ve played with a lot of guys in the NFL that have been talented enough to play, but couldn’t stay healthy, and that’s part of your job description. My first three years, I was in Green Bay, and one of the most important lessons I learned was from Brett Favre, that if you get hurt, someone will take your job. And that’s how (Favre) got his job. Don Majkowski got hurt, and Favre came in and took his job.”

Hasselbeck ended his quarterbacking career when he officially retired in 2016. Not long after leaving professional football, he replaced Mike Ditka on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. Many have wondered if Hasselbeck would ever consider leaving his position as an analyst to coach in the league.

It’s safe to say we’ll never see Hasselbeck calling the shots on the sideline for any NFL team for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that it’s simply never interested him.

“I think coaching is a lot harder than players realize, just like I think being a teacher is a lot harder than students realize. I would love to coach, but I also know the commitment that would take, and the toll that would take on a family. And for me right now, I think I’m more concerned with my family.”

But this doesn’t mean he is at all opposed to playing a significant role in the league somewhere down the line.

“When I was a player, I knew I wanted to do something in football, but not necessarily coaching. I’ve always had aspirations of owning or running an NFL team. That’s always what I wanted to do. A lot of players wanted to be a head coach, but that was never my desire. I never wanted to be a head coach.”

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While he enjoyed any opportunity he had to call the shots as a football player, he feels no need to do it on a professional level.

“I may have wanted to call the plays and decide when we’d go for it on fourth down or when we go for two, but I think besides that, I think I’m more passionate about the business of football and the fan experience. Connection to the community and to decide what types of people represent the team that we’re all a part of and that kind of stuff is more exciting to me.”