In Defense of Jeff Fisher

Yeah, I’ve bashed Jeff Fisher. I’m not afraid to admit it. You get to the end of a long relationship that’s clearly dying and you can’t think of anything but the negative. Once you’re out and get some space, which in today’s world is about 72 hours, you realize that it wasn’t all bad. Today’s post is about the “wasn’t all bad.”

Look at what Jeff Fisher accomplished that no coach in the NFL will ever have to deal with for the rest of the history of the league. He coached a team that had four different home stadiums in four years. They played the lame-duck year in Houston followed by a traffic nightmare in Memphis and one year in Vanderbilt Stadium, which is bad karma if nothing else, followed by what was then Adelphia Stadium.

He’s been called the master of the 8-8 season. Yeah, five 8-8 seasons in 16 years, plus two 7-9 efforts, is a lot. The 8-8 seasons are a product of the multiple moves and a team that he rebuilt twice. Plus his 2006 and 2010 seasons are two of the craziest 8-8 seasons ever. These seasons started 0-5 and 0-6 and the second half was an insane in-season turnaround. One of these seasons gave the franchise momentum and the other led to his demise.

When he took over for Jack Pardee, the team had just completed a remarkable seven consecutive playoff berths with a 3-7 record that makes Fisher look like Bill Belichick. The team scrapped the run-and-shoot offense and went with Fisher’s three yards and a cloud of dust.

The key to that turnaround was hitting those early draft picks when they got them. The drafting of Eddie George and Steve McNair gave the team young offensive talent. In 1999, when the team finally got a home of its own, the franchise’s first Super Bowl bid was the result.

This was the golden age of Fisher. The team made the playoffs four out of five years and never could recapture the magic (some call it luck) of their 1999 run. It ended suddenly as the team had to pay the piper for some bad salaries and it was time for Fisher’s second rebuilding campaign.

Transitioning from a borderline Hall of Fame running back to the next guy isn’t as tough as finding that new quarterback after your previous guy was run out of town. The Titans couldn’t afford McNair in 1996 so they traded him to the stinking Ravens. Enter Vince Young. And the much less heralded late addition of Kerry Collins. These were the quarterbacks that would lead to Fisher’s much more brief second golden era.
It started with the crazy comebacks of 2006. The defense took over in 2007 and the team made the playoffs for the first time in four years. The team was one Chris Brown fumble from winning that wild card game in San Diego. I’m convinced of that.

The following year was one for the ages. After losing Vince Young with an injury and a tantrum, Kerry freaking Collins and a young man named Chris Johnson helped lead the team to a 13-3 record and home field advantage in the playoffs. Yeah, the loss was tough. I, as many NFL fans, wish that the Titans had the right to choose their playoff opponent. The Steelers got the 8-8 division winning Chargers while the Titans had to face the Ravens and the officials couldn’t see an expiring play clock.
2008 should have been the stepping stone to another continued run of greatness. The run ended quickly. The defense couldn’t recover from the loss of Albert Haynesworth and Kerry Collins was as inconsistent as he was steady in 2008. Fisher couldn’t right the ship until it was too late. An 8-2 run somewhat salvaged the season but fans had seen this trick before. Restlessness began.

2010 was a nightmare. The defense improved enough and made key turnovers early. The offense was led by a rejuvenated Vince Young. Despite the 5-2 start, we could see cracks in the armor. The defense stayed on the field too long. Kenny Britt looked like a monster one game and got injured the next. Chris Johnson wasn’t getting those highlight-reel runs and more often than not got hit before he could start running. Young was pulled from a horrorshow performance against the Steelers. In the end the Steelers were the only team the Titans played all year who won a playoff game, so a schedule that looked tough really wasn’t.

The team finished 1-8. It was another long losing streak for a coach who had a lot of them. It was time to go. Remember, as much as fans like to bash him, as for as much ammo as they have, Fisher made it for more than 16 years and no coach in franchise history has made it longer than five. It’s doubtful that the next guy will come close to Fisher’s accomplishments. I mentioned earlier how hard it is to replace a beloved franchise QB. It’s about ten times harder to replace a franchise coach.

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