NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The atmosphere was so cordial at the
Tennessee Titans' headquarters Friday it was hard to tell Jeff Fisher
was leaving the team.
He stood behind the podium thanking everyone in the building
before leaving with a wave. Tennessee's top executives expressed
their gratitude for his work over the years, then discussed how
they will replace Fisher after mutually agreeing they had reached a
point where "it was time to move on" after 16 full seasons.
"It is just time for a change," owner Bud Adams said Friday by
telephone from his Houston office.
Fisher declined to address details about the decision, but
acknowledged some differences with the team. He also looked much
more relaxed Friday morning than in weeks, calling it the best
decision after two difficult seasons.
The Titans rebounded from an 0-6 start to finish 8-8 in 2009,
then wasted a 5-2 start in 2010 by losing eight of the final 10
games for a 6-10 record.
"I've been coaching for 25 years, and it's time. I need a
break," Fisher said. "And I think timing-wise this is a perfect
opportunity to do this so the organization can move forward with
their plan, and I'll move forward with whatever happens in the
The team announced the split Thursday night, shocking players,
assistant coaches and the rest of the NFL because Adams announced three weeks ago he'd decided to keep Fisher for the final year of
his contract. Adams said teams and coaches unfortunately almost
always reach a point where change is the best option.
"I believe both the team and Jeff will benefit in the long run
from this move. Now I'm still confident about our future. I think
we have good players. I believe in [senior executive vice president] Steve Underwood and [general
manager] Mike Reinfeldt to find our next head coach."
The search to replace Fisher is already under way, and Reinfeldt and Underwood will handle the process. The only
timetable is "as long as it takes." Underwood said reports of the
coach's settlement at $8 million were "erroneous" while declining
to answer questions about the package.
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, promoted from defensive coordinator to interim coach in
1994, guided the team's relocation from Houston to Tennessee and
took the Titans to their lone Super Bowl appearance. He also had
losing skids of at least five games in five of the last seven
He 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
"He's a great coach. He's the only coach I've played for since
I've been in the league," Titans running back Chris Johnson said
Friday after Pro Bowl practice in Hawaii. "He's a guy that I feel
a lot of players would like to play for. He's a player's coach. But
I understand the business aspect of this game, so that's how it
Fisher could coach again this season. A team executive noted that's
up to Fisher, but the coach wouldn't speculate when asked if he
might work on television for a season.
"I think I need the rest. Those that coach 10 years that take a
year off are three times better coaches ... in year 11. I'm going
to take time," Fisher said.
Reinfeldt noted Fisher's departure didn't change the Titans'
decision to either trade quarterback Vince Young or release him
later this offseason. The general manager also noted Fisher just
finished his 17th season with this organization and called that
unbelievable in a difficult job that takes a toll.
"He was the face of the franchise for such a long time,"
Reinfeldt said. "At the same time, I think change is part of the
NFL. You look other places where change has happened, change can be a wonderful thing, and we can use that change to get us to where we want to be."
Fisher eluded to the possibility of a contract extension the day
after the season ended, but Adams decided to let his coach work
through the final year of his contract. Fisher's last winning
record was 13-3 in 2008 when the Titans wasted the No. 1 seed in
the AFC by losing in the divisional round, and his last playoff
victory came in January 2004.
Underwood said Fisher had coached a season in the final year of
a contract at least a couple times before.
Neither Fisher nor the Titans would discuss specifics of why the
coach had to leave now despite repeated questions.
Fisher did admit they discussed adding his son, Brandon, to the
staff. But Adams doesn't allow nepotism involving employees who are
supervisors, which kept Fisher from luring away Gregg Williams from
New Orleans to be his defensive coordinator two years ago when
Williams wanted to bring his son along.
The coach also had other staff issues. Fisher couldn't keep
defensive line assistant Jim Washburn from leaving for the same job
with Philadelphia, then lost running backs coach Craig Johnson a
day later to Minnesota as the Vikings' new quarterbacks coach.
Fisher also fired defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil.
Underwood dismissed speculation that Fisher's job status kept
him from attracting quality assistants to fill those jobs. He said
the Titans were ready to offer multi-year deals, and 13 assistants
are under contract for 2011 with an offer extended to another to
Fisher will be missed in the locker room. Pro Bowl defensive end
Jason Babin said from Hawaii that his departure stinks.
"I like the way he coaches and handles the players, especially
being a veteran player. He doesn't say anything to me. He knows I'm
going to take care of business and do what needs to be done and
there was a professional understanding there," Babin said. "The
new coach could handle things a lot differently."
Titans linebacker Stephen Tulloch told The (Nashville) Tennessean that he believes Fisher would be in demand around the league "because he's a good coach and very well-respected."
"At the end of the day, he's a players' coach," Tulloch said, according to the newspaper. "He's somebody I can definitely say a lot of players enjoyed playing for. He knew how to coach us and treat us like men.
"He's a guy you could always talk to about your situation and was respectful of his players. I really don't have anything bad to say about coach Fisher."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.