Keith's Corner: Fisher's Words Were Telling

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"...I think I'm tired.  I think I need to rest."

Comments from now-former Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher on Friday, January 28.

To me, those are the most telling words from his farewell news conference. Those words tell the underlying story of why the Tennessee Titans and Fisher shockingly decided to get a divorce less than three weeks after announcing their marriage would continue.

It's a divorce. Some are messy. Some aren't. By last week, both sides knew they needed a divorce.

Yes, much was said at that final press conference and much was not said. It was very typical of every "parting of the ways" press conference that I have ever attended. While most want total clarity in the finale, they are often left somewhat in the dark and unsatisfied.

Maybe it is just good manners between two sides who hope to part as best as possible. Maybe it is due to a legal agreement involved in the final settlement. Maybe it is simply that they two sides have no desire to play "He said/They said" in front of the public. Maybe both sides just want it to be over.

Maybe it is all of the above.

"...I think I'm tired.  I think I need to rest."

It was stunning that the Jeff Fisher that I have known since the late spring of 1998 would utter these words. The word "Wow" did come out of my mouth very quietly.

"Tired" is the last thing that Jeff Fisher has ever seemed.

He worked a phenomenal number of hours as the Titans head coach, yet found a way to do plenty of normal "Dad Things'' with his three children. He ran marathons, fished and hunted whenever there was free time and had time for countless charities. He did a radio show AND a television show every Tuesday night, arriving for each just in time. He found time for friends and to do anything that the Titans organization asked him to do. He co-chaired the NFL's competition committee and loved traveling to Montana.

In 13 football seasons together, with nearly 400 radio shows, nearly 300 Friday production meetings and literally thousands of minutes taping various interviews, I have never, ever heard Jeff Fisher say that he was tired.

Never once.

He loved the pace. He loved the frenzy. He seemed to thrive on always being on the go. 

But on Friday, January 28, 2011, on the last of his 5919 days as head coach of the Tennessee Titans, Fisher said that it was time to stop.

"...I think I'm tired.  I think I need to rest."

When things got tough over the past 13 seasons, Jeff Fisher's reaction was totally consistent: he was ready to stand and fight. You would see the old punt returner who might have looked California Cool, but deep inside was Chicago Bears tough. I loved seeing that Jeff Fisher because I knew that it was about to turn around, that someone was about to pay the price. And they almost always did.

This past fall, however, he dug deep for "that Jeff Fisher", but it clear that he was getting harder to bring to surface. The coach had endured a lot football-wise...the move to Tennessee, a few near-misses in the playoffs, the 2004-2006 rebuild, a disappointing end to the 2008 season, the shocking death of Steve McNair, the slow start of '09, the whole Vince Young saga, Mike Heimerdinger's cancer diagnosis and a 2010 season that got away.

The '10 campaign was unlike any other for Fisher and Titans.

Slow starts to seasons had been fixed with fast finishes, just like in 2009. But losing eight of his last nine games to end 2010, well, Fisher had not experienced that. The battler and the thinker that Fisher is, he looked for the answer in every area, but could not find one and it wore on him. At the end of the season, for the first time, Fisher really looked and sounded very tired.

We could all tell, but thought it would be temporary.

History said that he would bring the Titans back in 2011, just like he did in both 1999 and 2007 when he was also in the last year of his contract. When Fisher's return was announced on Friday, January 7, most assumed that "a recharged Fisher" would return to lead the team into an important off-season. After all, he just had a wonderful January break in Arizona, watching son Trent's Auburn Tigers beat Oregon for the national championship. Fisher would return with the passion that he always showed.

But he was apparently not "recharged" after all.

Fisher knew quickly. The Titans brass knew. It wasn't going to work. Too much water under the bridge.

"...I think I'm tired.  I think I need to rest."

Jeff Fisher is a fine football coach, but a better guy. He's treated everyone well, but was especially kind to his work colleagues. He knew everyone's name, did not hesitate to speak to their spouses and children and made everyone feel invested in the Titans football family. That's why people from top to bottom at Baptist Sports Park were 100% behind Jeff Fisher every day that he coached.

For me, it was a great honor to work beside him. He taught me many great lessons, some football-related, some not. I have never seen a more professional, prepared person in any walk of life. Whatever he chooses to do next, Jeff Fisher will strive to be the very best at it. And he will succeed.

There are many great football memories of my time working with Jeff Fisher, but the best came on January 9, 2000. The day after the "Music City Miracle" occurred, Jeff and I sat alone for a handful of minutes in the Baptist Sports Park cafeteria and talked about very specific details of what happened. No one else, just the head coach and me. As a sports fan---not just as his broadcaster---that conversation was my best part of this historic play.

So yes, Jeff Fisher's departure hurts. I understand the pain of many fans because I feel it, too.

And yet, there is a peace.

Mike Reinfeldt and Steve Underwood will pick a good head coach. Reinfeldt is now an experienced general manager who has assembled an excellent personnel staff. His 2010 acquisition of player personnel vice-president Ruston Webster was a huge coup. Tennessee's on-field issues are nothing that solid quarterbacking, three more good defensive players and some good luck won't fix. No one says that it will be easy---it is never easy in the NFL---but this is hardly a 2-14 team that the next coach will inherit.

And, there is peace about Jeff Fisher and his departure.  

"...I think I'm tired.  I think I need to rest."

For those who have worked closely with him, the fact that he would say these words out loud provided the needed answer, the closure. He knew it because he had no gas left in the tank to do this job. He wouldn't have said it, he wouldn't have admitted it if it weren't true.

I hope that Jeff Fisher will take the time to stop and the smell the roses, to get his battery recharged. I hope that he will indeed rest and fish. He is about to turn 53, which means that he has lots of life ahead of him. 

And the Titans move on in a new direction. Even with the sadness of Fisher's departure, the coming weeks will be exciting. It's a new journey and a new direction for the Tennessee Titans and it will be fun to see how it plays out.

For everyone involved, it is time for change. The frankness of Jeff Fisher's admission that he is tired makes that easier to accept.

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