If there’s one NFL team for which the term “coaching carousel” has been seldom used this decade, it’s the Tennessee Titans.
One of the aspects that has endeared the team to the Nashville community has been the stability at the top. In the decade-plus since the Oilers relocated, Jeff Fisher has gone from being hot-shot young coach to the currently longest tenured head man in the league.
In an age where head coaches tend to get lumped into the “disciplinarian” vs. “player’s coach” piles, Fisher has the unique distinction of being both. During the team’s slide into and emergence from salary cap hell, Fisher kept a steady hand on the wheel, never “losing the team” nor the confidence of the Titans’ front office.
Now that the team is back in annual playoff contention, Fisher has been hailed for taking his squad through two different rough patches (oh, yeah…there was that little thing of “four homes in four years” a little over a decade ago) and coming out the other side. There’s never going to be any such thing as a “lifetime contract” in the NFL, but right now, Fisher’s got the closest thing to it.
Another area in which Fisher can be commended is how he’s been able to keep a coaching staff together, with the men occupying the top four slots spending significant time coaching along the banks of the Cumberland River.
After making the only significant misstep of his managerial career (the hiring of Norm Chow as offensive coordinator), Fisher rectified it by going back to the future. In his second stint with the Titans, OC Mike Heimerdinger has had the challenge of trying to craft an offense suitable for the two very different styles of quarterbacks that could be leading it at any given time.
When Kerry Collins moved into the No. 1 slot in the second game of the ’08 season, the playbook necessarily changed, and as Collins found his rhythm and rookie running back Chris Johnson found his stride, the offensive question mark that had lingered around the team in the previous offseason started to dissipate. With a full offseason to scheme and install a plan revolving around Collins’ skills and Johnson’s new experience, it should be interesting to see how the Titans’ point production evolves.
Another area in which Fisher has experienced success on his staff has been when he’s promoted from within. Former defensive coordinator/new Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz worked as a defensive assistant and linebackers coach before being elevated to coordinator, and his successor took a similar path.
New DC Chuck Cecil should bring the same sort of intensity he had as a hard-hitting safety in the NFL to his new coaching role. After coaching various aspects of the defensive backfield game over the past nine seasons, Cecil gets his chance to install his defensive game plan, which likely will be modeled closely after Schwartz’s. The veteran leadership of DL Kyle Vanden Bosch and LB Keith Bulluck, along with the emerging backfield stars Michael Griffin and Cortland Finnegan should definitely aid Cecil’s transition.
Two more keys to Fisher’s staff success has been the veterans he’s placed in the assistant head coaches positions, men who serve very different but equally important roles in the overall scope of team preparation and execution.
Assistant head coach/linebackers Dave McGinnis spent three-plus seasons as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, so that experience in the top spot, combined with his 35 years in the league, give Fisher another veteran ear to bend on and off the gridiron.
McGinnis’s compatriot at the assistant head coach level, longtime strength and conditioning coach Steve Watterson, not only plays a key role in getting players physically ready for competition, but also serves as Fisher’s game day shadow, serving as a the head coach’s sounding board, especially for red zone and two-point conversion strategy.
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