Sometimes people don’t realize a good thing when they have it.
Maybe it dawns on them years later exactly how beneficial a sometimes-rugged experience was in shaping a person’s career or life.
Count Justin McCareins among those who has come to appreciate the hard-line tutelage that Mike Heimerdinger inflicted upon him early in his career.
McCareins admits he hated the screaming when he first came to the Titans as a fourth-round pick in 2001. But now that he and Heimerdinger are both back in Tennessee for another go-around, he realizes how much of a positive influence the offensive coordinator had on his NFL career.
“I learned how to be a pro under coach Heimerdinger, and that stays with you,” said McCareins, who played for Heimerdinger for three years with the Titans and one year with the New York Jets. “In terms of him raising his voice at me as a young player, I think that just shows he saw something in me, and you have to learn not to take that stuff personally, and to learn and take to coaching.”
That lesson didn’t come immediately for McCareins, who was often a favorite target of Heimerdinger’s wrath as a young player.
“It took about a year-and-a-half of constant nightmares. But he knows what he’s talking about. He knows what it takes to win and be successful, and you’ve got to respect him,” McCareins said.
McCareins, 29, came back to the Titans on a one-year deal to try and resurrect a career that had sagged to just 42 catches total the past two years in New York. So far, the reunion of player and coach has worked out, as McCareins is running first team at receiver along with Justin Gage.
“He’s done a great job. He’s probably the most relaxed I’ve seen him,” Heimerdinger said. “He’s catching the ball well. I think he gives that group a toughness, a competitiveness. He knows what’s expected of him. He’s very relaxed right now and doing some really good things.”
And as the only receiver to have worked with Heimerdinger, McCareins is now an on-field teacher for some of the other receivers on the roster.
“He knows what we want route-wise and he knows what we expect route-wise, because he’s been through all this,” Heimerdinger said. “I do see him teaching the guys out here on the field on the side, and telling them what we want, so he’s got leadership qualities.”
Coach Jeff Fisher sees the advantage McCareins has from his past work with Heimerdinger.
“He has really settled down,” Fisher said. “Keep in mind that we only had him for three years. He is making plays and understands the offense and is very familiar with coach Heimerdinger and has made a lot of plays over the last couple of days.”
McCareins admits he is more relaxed this time around with the Titans.
“It feels great, especially with coach Fisher and coach Heimerdinger back there and the majority of the same coaches and same personnel people,” McCareins said. “It feels like I never left, except I’m more comfortable and a little bit older and wiser.”
Playing for Heimerdinger again does get a chuckle from those who remember what it was like the first time they were together.
“I just talked to Eddie Berlin,” McCareins said. “He was in town a couple of weeks ago, and he said, ‘Punch Coach Heimerdinger in the gut for me.’ He was just kidding, but they give me a little grief. But they all know and they all wish sometimes that they could come back and play for him. He knows how to coach receivers. He’s one of those hands-on coordinators that receivers like to play for, because you know what you’re getting, and you know what he expects from you. He makes it clear.”
McCareins said he has come to appreciate the fact that Heimerdinger spells out exactly what he expects from players, something that isn’t always the case.
And thus far, he has been a kinder, gentler coordinator, as well.
“I was telling people I thought he was into yoga now or something. I thought maybe he had bought a puppy and had something to calm him down at home,” McCareins said. “But he says he’s just getting older himself and maybe he doesn’t have the energy to scream so much. But it’s still early.”