Third-leading tackler in franchise history signs contract to end career with Titans
Nashville, TN – Linebacker Keith Bulluck announced his retirement from the NFL today as a member of the Tennessee Titans.
Bulluck, who played a total of 11 seasons with the Titans (2000–2009) and New York Giants (2010), signed a contract with the Titans and will formally submit his retirement to the NFL tomorrow.
“Growing up as a foster kid from the age of 12 to 18 in Rockland County (N.Y.), playing football at the collegiate and professional levels was a dream I always had,” Bulluck said. “I earned opportunities to play for Syracuse University, the Tennessee Titans and my hometown New York Giants, and my upbringing allowed me to develop the focus and determination I needed to be successful at each level. I’ve been blessed and am very thankful to my university and these great organizations for allowing me to showcase my talents on and off the field.”
“The game of football has always been first in my life, coming before my friends, and in recent years, my family,” Bulluck said. “My quest to be the best football player and teammate that I can be has come to an end, and I am very much at peace with that. Throughout my 11-year NFL career, my teammates have been my family.
“I would like to thank my entire football family, starting with Syracuse University, the New York Giants and all my Tennessee Titan teammates, coaches, the entire organization and all the staff members I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Most of all I want to thank the city and the community of Nashville for supporting me and my teammates during my 10 years with the Titans. A very special thanks goes to my family, Heather, Keira, and Kenzi, the best team I’ve ever been a part of.”
Originally a first-round pick by the Titans in the 2000 NFL Draft, Bulluck concludes his career as the third all-time leading tackler in Titans/Oilers history. His 1,265 total tackles trail only linebackers Gregg Bingham (1,970) and Robert Brazile (1,281).
Bulluck was a mainstay in the Titans lineup for the better part of a decade and was one of the club’s most durable players. He appeared in 135 consecutive games from Nov. 12, 2001 against the Baltimore Ravens to December 20th, 2009 against the Miami Dolphins. The streak tied defensive lineman Elvin Bethea for fourth all-time in team annals, trailing only streaks by offensive lineman Bruce Matthews (232), Brazile (147) and punter Craig Hentrich (146).
Bulluck’s run came to an end when he missed the final two games of the 2009 season with a knee injury. The injury also ended his 127-game consecutive starting streak, which ranks sixth all-time for the franchise and third among linebackers (Brazile, Bingham).
The 2009 campaign was Bulluck’s eighth consecutive season with 100 or more tackles, a feat unparalleled for the team in the last 30 years. Since 1979, no other Titans or Oilers player has recorded more than five consecutive 100-tackle seasons. He was the leading tackler for the team in six different seasons (2002–2006, 2008).
Among linebackers in Oilers/Titans history, only Bingham (21) had more career interceptions than Bulluck, who had 19. Bulluck ranks 14th overall for the franchise in the category.
Selected out of Syracuse University with the 30th overall pick in the 2000 draft, Bulluck contributed in four-linebacker and nickel packages during his first two seasons, totaling four starts.
In 2002, he was inserted into the starting lineup permanently at right outside linebacker and began one of the most impressive multi-year runs in franchise history. With 180 tackles in 2002—the most by any member of the organization since 1986—and 171 tackles in both 2003 and 2004, he became the first player since Bingham (1979-81) to record more than 170 tackles in three consecutive seasons. He was named second-team Associated Press All-Pro in 2002, and in 2003 he earned first-team All-Pro honors and a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Bulluck matched his tackle output from 2003 with 171 stops in 2004. It gave him 522 tackles over a three-year period, the most since Bingham’s 587 from 1979–1981.
Bulluck’s personal success paralleled the team’s at the start of his career. The Titans made the playoffs in three of his first four seasons (2000, 2002, 2003) before salary cap difficulties forced a large portion of the roster to turn over in the mid-2000s. But as the Titans went through a youth movement, Bulluck’s level of play persisted. He set a career high with five sacks in 2004, and he totaled 150 and 161 tackles in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
In 2007, the Titans returned to the playoffs after a three-year hiatus, and Bulluck once again was at the forefront. His five interceptions led the team and marked a career high, and the Titans finished fifth in the NFL in total defense.
In 2008, Bulluck helped lead the Titans to a 13-3 record in the regular season, including a franchise-record 10 consecutive wins to begin the season. The team won the AFC South Division title with Bulluck posting a team-high 120 tackles.
Bulluck played his final NFL season in 2010 as a member of the New York Giants. In 13 games, he made eight starts at strongside linebacker and totaled 28 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
A native of Rockland County, NY, Bulluck was named first-team All-Big East and won the Bill Horr Award (team most valuable player) as a senior at Syracuse, where he played four seasons and graduated with a degree in psychology. He finished his career there ranked seventh in school history with 375 career tackles.
Bulluck’s impact was was felt in the community in addition to the field and locker room. A two-time winner of the Titans’ Walter Payton Community Man of the Year Award, he worked extensively during his career to support efforts related to foster care, a cause that became personal to him as a teenager in New York.
Bulluck was taken in at the age of 12 by Linda Welch, a single mother. The stay, which was supposed to last three weeks to help out his mother, turned into six years. With the support of the Welch family, Bulluck thrived at Clarkstown High School in New City, NY.
In an effort to extend his hand to children with similar backgrounds, he started the Keith Bulluck Believe and Achieve Foundation in 2003 to work with foster care groups in Middle Tennessee and New York. He later served as a national spokesperson for Foster Care Awareness Month and was named an honorary chairman of foster care awareness in Rockland County.
What They’re Saying About Keith Bulluck
Head Coach Mike Munchak
“I have been fortunate enough to be associated with this organization for more than 30 years, and it is not very often that a Keith Bulluck comes through an organization. I saw every snap that he took in practice and in games and saw him grow from a talented first-round selection into a leader on our defense. He made plays when we needed them and spoke up at the moments that he needed to speak up. He was a consistent player who showed up to practice every day and every Sunday. That is what pros do, and he showed others the way.”
Former Head Coach Jeff Fisher
“When we drafted Keith out of Syracuse, we knew we had the makings of a great football player, and he would prove us right every week. He was fast, athletic, smart, dependable—the perfect linebacker for our system. He also came to our team at a very important time. He gave our defense more athleticism and provided a connection from one group of successful players to the next generation of players. He was part of some very successful teams and defenses and he was a big reason for that success. He played with a confidence and relished the toughest match-ups each week. As much as I lobbied to get all of our games moved to Monday nights, where he thrived under the spotlight, I couldn’t get the league to agree with it. I truly enjoyed my time with him and wish him the best in his retirement.”
Former Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz
“Players as durable as Keith Bulluck are rare. That kind of reliability is prized among teammates and coaches. Keith missed only one game in our nine years together and had a knack for making the big play when the stakes were highest. I saw him grow from a nickel player as a rookie into a Pro Bowl, every-down linebacker and a leader on our defense. He was the prototype weak-side linebacker with speed, length and a high football IQ. He was able to match up with marquee tight ends and running backs and drew the opponents’ most dangerous players week-in and week-out. His leadership was instrumental in bridging the great Titans teams from 1999 through 2003 to the teams that returned to the playoffs in 2007 and 2008. I was fortunate to coach him and wish him and his family the best in his retirement.”
Former Position Coach Dave McGinnis
“I have had the privilege to have coached some very good players in my 27 years in the league, and Keith Bulluck fits in the upper tier of that group. Keith always answered the bell. He was available every Sunday—week after week and year after year. The biggest compliment anyone can give an athlete who plays a sport for a living is to say, ‘He is a pro.’ You are a professional when you get paid to play, but you are a pro when you play the game for more than money. Keith Bulluck is a pro.”
Running Back Eddie George
“This day is showing my age, because I remember him coming in as a puppy and seeing him grow. In my mind he was the quintessential pro—always prepared each week. He never got enough credit for his play as a linebacker; he was always making plays for us. He was a vocal leader for us, and it was a joy to see him blossom as a player through the years, getting better each season. I have no doubt that he will be tremendous at whatever he chooses to do next in life.”
Former Syracuse Teammate Donovan McNabb
“This is an outstanding feeling for me, to see a guy who has changed the linebacker’s approach and played the game for an organization that prided themselves on defensive game changers. And to see a guy who did it each and every weekend, not only am I happy about a friend that did it for 11 years and accomplished a lot of individual honors—he should have received more—but only cared about team and winning. I look at this young man as a brother. To go back to where it started says a lot about him, a true professional.”
Cornerback Samari Rolle
“Keith was a great leader and player and even better as a teammate and person off the field. He is a close friend and the godfather to my oldest son. I was proud to be his teammate and wish him the best.”
Linebacker David Thornton
“Part of my decision to play for the Titans was to join forces with the dynamic playmaker, Keith Bulluck! Without question, K.B. was one of the most productive, durable, and respected linebackers to play the position. His numbers are impressive! His passion for the game and commitment to the community are admirable. It’s an honor to have played with such a special individual.”
Former Jaguars RB Fred Taylor
Former Possition Coach Gunther Cunningham
“Keith Bulluck is one of those guys that belong in a very special circle of friends I’ve surrounded myself with, and Keith will know exactly what that means. He tried to get in that circle during our first year together, and I kept telling him he needs to make sure that he understands who the circle consisted of. He always told me he knew. As that first season progressed, from week to week he would bring it up and ask, ‘Gun, am I in the circle yet?’ and I would answer with a pretty quick, ‘No!’ During our second year, 2002, Keith blossomed into a very special man. He really grew in all areas of becoming a fine pro. He played and played well. Late in the season I really felt he may be the best linebacker in the league and surely be selected into the Pro Bowl. He wasn’t, and to this day it was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen in my 30-year career because he outplayed all of the linebackers that were voted in. I had a chance to leave for coordinator jobs after that year and didn’t do it. The reason was Keith Bulluck. I felt it was the biggest injustice to a young man I had seen for some time, so we made up our mind that he was going one way or another the next year, and he did. Following that year he asked me again if he was in the circle, and my answer was a definite and loud ‘YES!’ That circle consists of Derrick Thomas, Leslie O’Neal, Neil Smith, Howie Long, Lee Williams, Junior Seau, Dale Carter, and James Hasty, to name a few of their time.
“Keith, you have some new friends in that circle: Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Stephen Tulloch, Cliff Avril and other recent additions. You’re in a very special group of men that I’ve had the distinct pleasure to work with throughout my 30-year career, and you should be very proud. Not only are you in the circle with some outstanding players, but if you read those names very carefully, there are a couple of Hall of Famers in there with you. If we live long enough you will have some more of those guys with that yellow jacket around you. God bless you, Keith. You are one great man, and it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to coach you early in your career.”
Opening Comments From Friday’s Press Conference
Head Coach Mike Munchak
I’ve been around this organization for 30 years, and players like Keith Bulluck don’t come around very often. I was the (offensive) line coach during his time here, so I didn’t get the chance to coach him—even though he’s 6’3’, I thought I could put a little weight on him. He probably preferred not to be in the offensive line room, obviously. I had a chance to be around him for 10 years, and I saw every game that he played, every practice he participated in. I had a front row seat of watching him develop into one of the greatest players that played for this organization, and more importantly, like Mike (Keith) said, the great person that he is.
I was trying to think of what I’d say, and for me, it’s simple. You guys all walked by that saying I have on the wall: ‘Be a pro.’ I think he epitomizes that, Keith does. ‘Know what to do, and do it.’ I remember from the first day he came here—he was the first-round draft choice—when he first came through the door, he acted like a pro. He didn’t start right away, but he found a way to contribute. A lot of guys wouldn’t handle that well, but he handled that very well, I thought. Now maybe inside he didn’t, but I think ultimately he did. He found a way to help on special teams and do things that a lot of guys would have struggled with when they first came in because of expectations.
He went on, as we know, to play—and I didn’t realize it was this high—I think 127 consecutive games. That’s almost eight years without missing a football game. When you read that, it doesn’t seem like much, but for a player who has played the game, that’s unbelievable. That’s an unbelievable commitment to taking care of yourself, obviously having a little luck of staying healthy. But it’s not easy to accomplish that—playing eight years in this league without missing one football game for medical reasons. The guy stayed on the field every snap. He wasn’t a guy that was a two-down linebacker, he was a guy that played every snap. Now I think that is something that gets overlooked.
He’s obviously had some honors—he made the Pro Bowl, he was All-Pro, all those things, probably not near as many years as he should have because again, he did what the team needed of him. He wasn’t asked to blitz as much as other linebackers were—they got more credit for sacks. He played play-in and play-out as good as anyone in football during his 10 years with us here at the Titans.
Some of the things that stood out for me were—I think it was the Raider game I’m thinking about. I think it was his first year starting in ’02. We went out there to Los Angeles, and I think we were 2-1 at the time, and we got hammered. I think they put 28 on us in the first quarter or something. It was one of those games where I don’t know what we’re going to say when the game is over. We lost pretty badly, obviously. We come in, and now as a head coach, I can really appreciate it, because as a head coach, you’re trying to think what you’re going to say.
That’s how that season ended up going. There were games throughout the years that we played other teams where things weren’t always going well, that I think he did a great job of knowing kind of what to say—maybe a line or two, a couple of lines or so, but just brought guys back together.
Now on the practice field for me as a line coach, at times you talk about having leaders. He didn’t lead because he was told he should be a leader. It was more that it came natural to him. He enjoyed what he did, so he came on the field, and players bought into that. As he was talking, they listened to him. He talked to the coaches, he’d be talking to me as a line guy just to kind of keep things going, keep guys in their heads. If guys were messing up, he’d pull them aside and talk to them. In the locker room, he told guys, ‘Hey, shut the TVs off, it’s time to get ready for the game.’ They did what he said to do.
Those are the things that you miss and you take for granted when you have players like him on your football team. But again, it’s fun to be around it and watch it, and see what a contribution he made, not just on the field with a lot of what you saw, but behind the scenes, what he did for a lot of players, a lot of teammates, obviously he made us better coaches.
When you have great players, you become better coaches. And I think that was the fun part. (He was) always smiling, always having fun. I enjoyed being around him and watching him compete. He’s the kind of guy that I would have loved to have played with as a teammate. So again, it’s hard to believe all of these years have passed, and he’s done playing already.
I hear you guys talking all the time, ‘Who is going to step in and take Keith’s spot?’ We have some young linebackers I hope can someday. I hope they’ll hear some of this and see some of his clips which we show them, and can continue on where he left off. Keith, on behalf of Mr. Adams and the whole organization, I want to thank you for the contribution you made to this organization. You’ll never be forgotten, you’ll always be a part of our tradition, and what we’ve done here. I hope you won’t be a stranger and will come back as often as you can.
The last time I was up here, I signed a pretty big contract. I don’t see one in front of me now. I guess that’s not happening. I definitely would like to thank the Tennessee Titans as an organization, all the teammates that I’ve played with from Syracuse to 10 years with the Titans, to one year with the New York Giants.
I’m very appreciative. As a young kid, you start off and you just want to play ball. That’s all I ever wanted to do, was play ball. I got that opportunity at the collegiate level, and now here. When I got here, like coach Munchak said, I didn’t get the opportunity at first. But I knew I was going to get that opportunity.
When I did, I’m a firm believer in maximizing your opportunity. As a football player, you never know when it’s your time. You can go out there and practice, and I’ve seen people go down in practice. I’ve seen people go down their rookie year and never really bounce back. I was blessed to play in 127 straight games, eight years for the Titans. Some good years, some not so good years, but then we were able to get back to the top.
I think that the coaches that I had here, they had an expectation level of me, and I had an expectation level of myself. They pushed me to maximize that expectation level. Then when you get to a point where you maximize your expectation level, you look for other things to do. It’s not fair not to bring the guy next to you along, because that’s what makes up the team.
When you play this game, everybody wants to play to win the Super Bowl, absolutely. You want to be the best player you can be and as a team, to win a Super Bowl. I never got that opportunity, but I don’t regret, there’s no love lost for this game whatsoever. There are great players that have never played in or played for a Super Bowl.
I’m happy at this point in my life. I see my lady, my little girl, my other one is at gymnastics camp. I had the opportunity to make a good amount of money to provide for my family. Now I get to walk away as a Titan. I always loved being a Titan—coach (Jeff) Fisher, coach (Dave McGinnis), (Gunther Cunningham), (Jim Schwartz), all the coaches that we had here, the players. I think Jeff (Fisher) let me not practice like one time, but you know, it was my choice.
It’s one of those things, as I stand here in front of you now, I’ll never practice football again, I’ll never play another game. That’s why when I did it, I did it to the best of my ability and maximized my opportunity. I hope these guys that play this sport now take that as a privilege and an honor to do, and play for this shield and play for in this league.
I see Blaine Bishop back there. I remember my first meeting as a rookie, I made the mistake and sat in Blaine’s seat. He corrected me quickly. Things like that are things that are carried over. That Titan team that went to the Super Bowl and lost—I learned a lot from those guys. I didn’t get a chance to really play with those guys the way I wanted to. I learned a lot from those guys that carried over to the men that I was able to play with.
I think about guys that are here like Mike Griffin, Sen’Derrick Marks, Mike Roos, those guys that I practiced against and saw them come up to where they are now. I still root for them. There’s not too much more I really want to say. I just want to thank the media, thank all the staff, the equipment guys in the back, Ms. Tina (Tuggle), everybody, I definitely, thoroughly enjoyed my time. I’m officially no longer a football player.