AP Photo / Joe Howell
It really irks me when people say Jeff Fisher is one of the best coaches in the league and is irreplacable.
Was Jeff Fisher great? Sure, Jeff Fisher was great, but not at the time he left. Until recent years, Coach Fisher was one of the best coaches in the game. The fact that he survived so much adversity so successfully, including the move from Houston to Nashville, shows that. But Fisher's career with the Tennessee Titans was overrated. The Titans didn't win a playoff game for his last six seasons, and only made the playoffs six years out of his seventeen coached seasons.
For a coach to last seventeen years, he must have more than just regular season success. Hall of Famer George Halas coached the Chicago Bears for 40 years. How many times did his teams take home the ultimate trophy? Nine times. On the other end of the spectrum, Marty Schottenheimer guided the San Diego Chargers from 5-11 to 14-2 in just five short years, and coached great regular season teams with the Chargers, but struggled in the playoffs, going one and out every time. He was fired after five years, abruptly after a 14-2 season.
It seems Fisher was scared of change, and failed to adjust with the times. His "Fisher Ball" style no longer worked as the National Football League continued to evolve. "Fisher Ball" is the name designated to Jeff Fisher's tendency of stressing a run-first offense and a strong defense to guide the team. While that did work remarkably well decades ago, and still works for some teams today, it was not working for the Titans in recent years, primarily due to a struggling defense. The Titans tried to set up the run with the pass more often than not instead of the other way around. As evidence that the NFL has become a passer's league, both teams vying for a Super Bowl on Sunday have quarterbacks with top five passer ratings.
Fisher is meant to be a defensive-minded coach, yet only six times has he had a top ten defense, the same number of times he has had a bottom ten defense. On average, he has had a 16th ranked defense, which is precisely average. Nine years, more than half of his coached seasons, has Fisher had a bottom ten passing defense, and that too in a league that is becoming more and more pass heavy.
The stats are mind boggling. The Titans have gone through five game or longer losing streaks in five out of the last seven seasons. Unless the roster is extraordinarily bad -not the case with many of these Titans teams - coaching has to pay a part in long losing streaks. Fisher is "Coacho Ocho" with 5 out of his 17 of seasons ending with a 8-8 record, bringing his total winning percentage to just over .500 at .542. Out of active coaches who have coached in a playoff game, only Pete Caroll has a worse playoff win percentage than Fisher's .455. The Titans had the best record in the regular season twice, and both times Fisher's teams went one and done.
"The players loved him," the Fisher enthusiasts say. Of course they did, Fisher was a "player's coach," always working for his players, and not against them. He always tried to handle his players' problems behind the scenes. When you coach in the National Football League, you have to put your differences aside, sometimes even players' feelings aside, and do what's best for the team. The obvious example is Vince Young. Yes, what VY did off the field was inexcusable, but the fact is, he was producing on the field, and that is all that matters when the ultimate goal is a Super Bowl. Another possible flaw of Fisher's is his loyalty to veterans. The list of players that should have been replaced by younger, more productive players runs too long, and includes Nick Harper, Bo Scaife, and Kerry Collins.
"Fisher has been the coach for the Titans forever," is another thing that Fisher supporters say as a reason he is a great coach. To me, the fact that Fisher has stayed around for 17 years only shows how stubborn owner Bud Adams is. Bud Adams gave Jeff Fisher complete control, and by the end, Fisher was taking advantage of it. By reportedly signing assistants to extensions without telling the front office, and trying to hire his son Brandon when Adams publically had a problem with nepotism, tells me Fisher was seeing how far he could go without consequences. He realized he couldn't go too far.
These Fisher praisers also love to state that the Titans will be terrible now that Fisher has left. What was the team these last two years then? They sure weren't good. I can't see it getting any worse than the 1-7 finish we just witnessed. This team does have some of the parts to success.
So why do people find Fisher great? Because Nashvillians know nothing different than the media charming, moustache bearing man. The fact is, Fisher has won nothing: no Coach of the Year, and most importantly, no Super Bowl. In any other city, can you imagine a coach keeping his job for 17 years without winning a Super Bowl? It wouldn't happen. It's interesting that even by the end, Adams didn't fire Fisher, and rather, it was a mutual agreement.
One last observation: if not for the Music City Miracle, is there any chance Fisher would have stayed even half as long as he did? That trick play propelled the Titans to the AFC Championship, and eventually to their only Super Bowl. If not for that play, the Titans would have been another one and done in the playoffs, and he would have had two less playoff wins. Most importantly, without the MCM, this site wouldn't exist, but that's not the point. Maybe Jeff Fisher owes his long career in Nashville to Alan Lowry, Kevin Dyson, and Frank Wycheck.