Quite often one will hear that the coaches are on the sidelines; it's the players on the field who make the real difference. Having been both a player and a coach, I can unequivocally say that is the furthest thing from the truth. The best player in the world will flounder and fail if the coaching staff handles his position improperly.
Conversely, a player seen as a wash-out, also-ran, or never-was can truly see a rennesiance if given the right opportunity to show what he can do.
Such is the case with the Tennessee Titans coaching staff. For the last 10 years this staff, under the leadership of Jeff Fisher, has taken the Tennessee Titans and with very few exceptions made them perrennial contenders.
Five of the coaching staff are former pro players, including former Houston Oilers standouts Mike Munchak and Marcus Robertson. The entire staff has a combined 342 years of coaching experience at the collegiate and professional level, and it shows.
While each coach plays his part, there are key positions that make all the difference. Here then, are the major players that make the Tennessee Titans the success they are.
He's not the biggest guy on the block, standing just shy of six feet tall. He's graying a little around the temples, and his mustache and beard have been salt and pepper for years.
He's not a big yeller; you very rarely see him or hear of him screaming his head off in frustration at a player who just screwed up. In pre- and post-game interviews, he is somewhat soft-spoken, but very direct and erudite.
Yet when he talks, people—particularly players—listen. Those behemoths, those Titans of football, lean on his every word, and they respond to his requests—nay, his demands—as if they fear doing otherwise.
One look from him is usually enough to quiet even the most rambunctious player, a quick grasp of the face mask and a few softly spoken words into an ear hole typically result in a head nod, a "yes coach", and a subsequent attempt to do whatever it was coach just said to do.
Just who is this guy?
He is Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, and he—and his staff—command attention and respect.
And they get it.
One of the things that makes a football team successful is continuity. and that is one thing Coach Fisher gives the Titans. At the helm of the team since 1994, Fisher has seen the team through thick and thin, from the highs of a Super Bowl appearance in 1999—same year as the Music City Miracle—to the lows of a 4-12 record, from a city change to a name change, Coach Fisher has been there. And from the looks of things, he isn't going anywhere soon.
He demands athleticism, physicality, and endurance from his players and staff. He isn't afraid to sit a player down when he deserves it. And he absolutely will not compromise excellence.
When his playing days as a cornerback with the Chicago Bears were over, he began his coaching career; under the tutelage of greats like Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan, George Seifert (of the Bill Walsh coaching tree), Coach Fisher very quickly developed an eye for defenses, and was rewarded by becoming the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles by the time he was 30.
After a trip throgh the west coast, where he coached for the Los Angeles Rams and the San Fransico 49ers, Coach Fisher joined the Houston Oilers organization in 1994, and he's been there ever since.
He brings a quite but demanding presence to the sidelines each and every week. His players know what he expects, and they go out of their way to give it to him.
One of the hallmarks I have always thought made a good leader was to be able to get people to do what you want them to, and make them think it was their idea. Coach Fisher has perfected this technique.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, or Coach "Dinger" to his players, is beginning his second year back back with the Titans after a short hiatus to explore other avenues of excellence. He realized he had a good thing in Nashville, so he's back at the helm of the Titans offense.
Coach D came back to the Titans just in time, resucitating an offense that ranked 27th in the NFL in 2007. When Vince Young imploded under the pressure of the big time, Coach Dinger had a plan, and executed it to near perfection. Save for a late fumble in a playoff game, I dare say the plan would have taken them all the way to the big show last year.
With Kerry Collins locked in (?) to the starting position at quarterback, and the addition of a whole slew of downfield targets, coach D is in position to help lead the Titans offense to the prize this year.
Some of you may more readily recognize this coach if you saw him wearing a "Gazoo" helmet. After all, he was the one who first wore it, for his own and his opponents' protection.
Chuck Cecil begins his first year as the defensive coordinator for the Titans after spending time under the tutelage of Jim Schwartz, now the head coach of the Detriot Lions.
Cecil played hs final NFL season with the Houston Oilers in 1995, and stayed with the organization, taking on smaller roles unti the opportunity arose for him to rise up the ranks. His influence has already been seen in the play of defensive backs Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin, as well as the overall performance of the defensive backfield.
With a Pro Bowl and a slew of honors under his belt, coupled with his reputation as a hard worker, Cecil brings an air of immediate legitimacy to his new role.
Add to that the fact that his players respect him and respond to him, and you get a Titans defense that looks to repeat, if not improve, on its performance from last year.
Anyone remember the 1999 NFL season?
I do. And it was truly miraculous.
Down 16-15 with 16 seconds left in regulation, the Titans executed to perfection the play now calld the Music City Miracle, but which was known to the Titans as Homerun Throwback. Oddly enough, it started off wrong, and the intent was not to score a touchdown, but to get within field goal range.
Didn't matter: Kevin Dyson rumbled 75 yards down the left sideline, and history was made.
Two weeks later, Derrick Mason led a special teams attack with an 80-yard kick return, and the Tennessee Titans went to their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Special teams was not to blame for their eventual loss; in fact, special teams contributed to their almost winning the game.
With a mastermind like Lowry in the mix, the Titans will always be dangerous on special teams. Willing to take risks, but smart enough to play it safe, Lowry gives the Titans an edge on special teams that few teams have the luxury of.
He was a standout offensive guard for the Houston Oilers from 1982-1993. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. He's been with the Titans organization since his retirement from the game.
He's offensive line caoch Mike Munchak, and he's a wizard with an offensive line.
In his tenure with the organization, Munchak has had only one year when he returned his entire front five. Yet year after year, he has molded what he has been given into a cohesive unit that opens holes for ball runners and protects the passer.
Players know he has the skills and the knowledge to speak intelligently about the game. He has an eye for the little tricks that give his players the edge over attacking defensive linemen—often times much bigger defenisve linemen—to get his team the points advantage.
The fact that his line regularly works in front of 1,000 yard rushers is testimony to his ability to teach the game. With Rookie Chris Brown ready to improve on last year's performance, and LenDale White adamant that he isn't going anywhere, it's a safe bet that the Titans rack up big numbers this year.
Coach Fisher demands physicality.
Coach Fisher demands strength.
Coach Fisher demands endurance.
Coach Fisher demands athleticism.
Coach Watterson provides.
Steve Watterson has been with the TItans organization since 1986, making him the longest tenured coach on the staff—predating the current head coach by eight years. During that time, Coach Watterson has worked with the likes of Mike Golic, Bruce Matthews, the aforementioned Mike Munchak, Warren Moon, and a slew of other Hall of fame or sure to be Hall of Fame players.
Their career longevity and success can be directly attributed to his abilty to train, condition, and rehabilitate players, often bringing them back from what could have been career-ending injuries (Steve McNair, anyone?)
He may not prowl the sidelines making calls, but his influence and effect is readily apparent, needed, unmatched in the league.