Remembering Floyd Reese, who simply lived football

There is a bit of a secret code among old-time employees at Titans’ headquarters. Call someone “Bo,” and you’re in the know. It was Floyd Reese’s catch-all name for everyone.

“Hey Bo,” can still be heard around the team’s MetroCenter campus.

Reese worked for the Oilers and Titans from 1986-2006, the final 13 years as their GM. He passed away Saturday after a battle with esophageal cancer. He was 73.

Floyd Reese, Tennessee Titans

Courtesy Tennessee Titans

“He was a football renaissance man,” said Steve Watterson. “No hours too long, no stone too big to look under. He lived it. The only things that mattered in his life that I knew about were football and his family.” [Unlocked]

Coming off three consecutive 8-8 records, before the Titans first season with the new name in their new stadium, I spoke with Bud Adams about his hopes for the 1999 team.

The resulting story for The Tennessean came with a “Playoffs or Pink Slips” headline. Adams, who didn’t have a great history of patience, expected a big year. Reese clipped that headline and tucked it into the large framed piece behind his desk at the team’s new headquarters: A motivational reminder of the season’s stakes.

The Titans went 13-3 and missed a last-second tie with the Rams at the Georgia Dome in the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance by one yard.

Under Reese as GM, the Titans recorded 111 wins – 106 in the regular season and five in the postseason, advancing to two AFC Championship Games and that one Super Bowl.

He hired Jeff Fisher as head coach and added cornerstone talents Steve McNair, Eddie George, Frank Wycheck, Jevon Kearse, Derrick Mason, Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Mawae, Craig Hentrich and Albert Haynesworth.

“The way Amy (Adams Strunk) explained it, this is one of the highest, if not the highest honor, that we could bestow on somebody that’s not in the NFL Hall of Fame,” Reese said in July upon learning he’d be inducted into the franchise’s ring of honor this season.

“And so that kind of makes you realize that this is special. I know it is special too because there’s been so much time and effort that we put in – not just me, but Jeff, and everybody involved, I mean, for years and years and years.”

Blake Beddingfield scouted for the Titans for 19 years, starting as a low-ranking member of Reese’s staff.

In the spring of 2000, Reese once gave Beddingfield the simple assignment of keeping free-agent visitor Randall Godfrey from leaving Titans’ HQ after his time with the team had concluded.

While Reese hurriedly tried to finish a deal over the phone with Godfrey’s agent, he didn’t want his prized linebacker heading off to rival Jacksonville, a team he thought Godfrey preferred. After 45-minutes of repetitive conversation and anything-goes stall tactics at the behest of Reese, his assistant got word to the scout.

The deal was done.

“Floyd was all football, all the time,” Beddingfield said. “Constantly. Loved talking about it, loved the players, the coaching aspect of it. He loves it and lived it every day. He loved to be around practice. He liked to be around the players, that interaction. It brought joy to him every day.”

Watterson and Reese were very close.

When Reese got to Nashville in 1997 and needed a new assistant, he hired Heidi Westerbeck.

Watterson walked by as she was getting settled in and Reese told her there was only one rule.

“Stay away from him,” the GM said, pointing at the strength coach.

Westerbeck married Watterson in 2001, with Reese serving as the best man and Mike Munchak and Gregg Williams serving as groomsmen.

Reese gave an uproarious toast.

“Here I am at the wedding giving a talk to a guy I consider my brother, and I look over at his bride who’s like the daughter I never had,” Watterson recalled Reese saying.

“Only in Tennessee can it make sense that my daughter can marry my brother.”

Covering Reese, I had ups and downs as is typically the case with most beat reporters and GMs and coaches.

The week before the franchise’s first game as commuters to Memphis in 1997, I wrote a piece about disgruntled wives of players.

The way things were set up, families would ride busses to and from West Tennessee for home games on Sundays while players would fly to Memphis Saturday and fly back after the game Sunday, like with any road game.

It meant players would be home in advance of their wives and children. Families were upset. Some players wanted to ride back with their spouses rather than fly, but the team wouldn’t allow it.

It was a tense week for the organization with a big game against Oakland looming at the Liberty Bowl, and Reese didn’t consider the story an important issue. At all.apple icon 144x144 precomposed

He called me into his office, told me I’d crossed him more than once and the next time one of us would get fired and he’d take his chances it would be me.

The Titans beat the Raiders 24-21.

As with most issues, it faded after a relatively short period of time.

After a long, travel-heavy season I crossed paths with Reese.

“That thing with us got off to a shaky start this year, huh Bo?” he said with his signature laugh. “But we came out of it pretty well, didn’t we?”

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