|Jeff Fisher took the franchise to its lone Super Bowl appearance, a thrilling 23-16 loss to St. Louis, following the 1999 season.|
Nearly a month after the Titans announced they will trade or release the quarterback, they surprised the NFL by disclosing they are parting ways with the league's longest-tenured coach and the face of this franchise for 16 full seasons three weeks after owner Bud Adams decided to keep Fisher for the final year of his contract.
"It became evident that consensus was increasingly hard to find and reality wasn't matching the vision we discussed," according to the team's statement. "It is unfortunate that this decision is coming at this juncture, but we believe that we have reached the point where change is in the best interest of both parties."
Fisher is the coach who guided the then-Oilers from lame duck status in Houston through relocation to Tennessee while playing in four stadiums in four years from the Astrodome to Memphis and a stop at Vanderbilt University before finally settling into LP Field in 1999. He took the renamed Titans to their lone Super Bowl appearance, a thrilling 23-16 loss to St. Louis.
That is why the team released a statement saying the Titans will always appreciate his leadership through some of their "greatest heights." But the relationship frayed.
The parting seems to be cordial enough. Fisher is expected to attend Friday's news conference as the Titans discuss the first head coaching change since Fisher replaced Jack Pardee on an interim basis during the 1994 season. One of the leading candidates to replace Fisher is Mike Munchak, the Titans offensive line coach. The Hall of Famer is a favorite of Adams.
The news shocked Titans assistants and players who learned about the move from reporters calling for reaction after SI.com reported that the team and Fisher were negotiating his departure.
Linebacker Gerald McRath tweeted, "my jaw is on the floor ... wow is all I can say." Defensive end Jason Babin, in Hawaii for Sunday's Pro Bowl, said family and friends bombarded his cell phone with texts.
"I thought everything was good going forward, but I guess there's some issues," Babin said.
Babin expects Fisher will be fine.
"I'm pretty sure he's going to be doing some hunting if he's not coaching this fall and having a blast fly fishing in Montana," Babin said.
Among the four major U.S. sports, only Jerry Sloan with the NBA's Utah Jazz has been with the same team longer than Fisher had been with the Titans. Andy Reid of Philadelphia now takes over as the NFL's longest-tenured coach having finished up his 12th season with the Eagles.
Fisher thanked Adams and the franchise for "a special 17 years" in a statement released by the team.
"It has been a tremendous experience. We all did our very best and I think I can look back with fond memories and be very proud of what we accomplished. I want to wish the organization, the current players and the fans nothing but the best in the future."
This parting is just the latest twists in a year marked by repeated drama. The Titans started 5-2 only to lose six straight and finish 6-10.
Part of the downfall also was that Fisher and Young never really jelled in five seasons together after the Titans drafted the former Texas standout with the third overall pick in 2006 under orders from Adams. The relationship frayed even as Fisher publicly defended Young until Nov. 21 when the situation boiled over.
Young tossed his shoulder pads and other equipment into the stands after an overtime loss in which the quarterback suffered a season-ending injury. He was upset, saying later Fisher didn't trust him enough.
Running back Chris Johnson said Wednesday while practicing in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl he didn't think Fisher or Young could work together after "it hit the fan."
Fisher has coached more NFL games for one franchise than all but six Hall of Famers: George Halas, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Curly Lambeau and Bud Grant. He ranks third among active coaches in career wins with a record of 147-126, behind only Bill Belichick (176) and Mike Shanahan (160), and he is 20th in career coaching victories.
Since 1999, Tennessee is seventh in the NFL in winning percentage with a 110-82 record.
But Fisher is just 5-6 in the postseason and hadn't won a playoff game since beating Baltimore in a wild-card matchup in January 2004. Tennessee lost a wild-card game in San Diego in 2007 and wasted the AFC's top seed in 2008 with a loss to Baltimore.
He also had losing skids of at least five games in five of the last seven seasons.