NASHVILLE – Jim Haslett has been in football long enough that some might assume he has forgotten more about the game than most will ever know.
Here’s the thing. There is little to indicate that he has forgotten much, if anything.
“He's already taught me a lot of things already, just on my own game, technicality and fundamentals,” Tennessee Titans inside linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “It was crazy. It was the little things that I never really saw. He was able to point it out for me, and for me to be able to use it in practice, and see that it actually works, which was the most beautiful thing.”
With the start of the 2020 NFL season, Haslett has been involved with the NFL for all or part of six different decades. It began when he was a player – an inside linebacker – with the Buffalo Bills, the team that drafted him in the second round in 1979. He spent seven years with the Bills and one with the New York Jets and was a starter beginning in his rookie season.
As a coach, he has been the defensive coordinator for four different NFL franchises as well as one in the World League of American Football. He also was head coach of the New Orleans Saints and interim head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Haslett even spent one season as a head coach in the United Football League and led the Florida Tuskers to a perfect 6-0 record during the 2009 regular season.
Now, at 64 years old, he is the Titans inside linebackers coach.
“(Haslett), that’s my guy,” second-year linebacker David Long said. “I’ve been learning a lot from him to take my game to the next level. … Coach has been in the game a long time, so us as players we look for those little tricks or stuff that we might have not known, just remnants, just give us that knowledge for us to be better players.”
Officially, Haslett replaced Tyrone McKenzie, who was not retained following last season and is now an assistant with Detroit. Effectively, though, he stepped in for defensive coordinator Dean Pees as the voice of experience on Tennessee’s defense.
When Pees retired at 70 years old following last season’s loss to Kansas City in the AFC Championship, coach Mike Vrabel decided not to name a new coordinator. Instead, he opted to assume a larger role in things with that unit and tapped outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen to be the man in charge when the head coach is occupied elsewhere. Bowen is 33 years old and never has been a coordinator at any level. Vrabel is 45 and his first defensive coordinator when he played in the NFL was Haslett (Pittsburgh, 1997).
Thus, when situations arise this fall that require insight from someone who has been there, done that, Haslett will have something to say.
“Jim’s a really good guy, really good coach,” Jayon Brown, the Titans’ third-leading tackler in 2019, said. “He’s been around for a while and a really good mentor as well. I feel like we got close as a linebacker group and individually with him as well and he's teaching us some really good techniques and I'm looking forward to using them this upcoming season.”
Not surprisingly, Haslett’s current job is nothing new to him. He spent the past three seasons as linebackers coach with the Cincinnati Bengals, and his first job as an NFL assistant was as linebackers coach with the Los Angeles Raiders (1993-95).
At this point, the satisfaction of coaching, whatever the role, has not gotten old.
“Those big-picture jobs, you stay (at the office) at lot longer and you spend more time,” Haslett said. “I think the older you get … it’s something I really enjoy doing. I enjoy being the head coach. I enjoy being the defensive defensive coordinator.
“But, to be honest, I’m enjoying coaching linebackers. I enjoy coaching three or four guys and trying to make them better and just be a part of the defense that helps us be successful.”
The Titans inside linebackers could not be any happier to hear what he has to say.
“You get a lot of coaches that'll coach you, and they'll tell you one thing and sometimes either it’ll work or it don't work,” Evans said. “But every single one of his (tips) have always worked. I just can't really wait to be able to get more and more molded to him and learn as much as I can from a guy like that.
“He has a whole list of history of playing this game and a whole list of history of coaching really good football players. I'm just glad that I'm one of them.”