Jeff Fisher: The Paragon of Stability

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Jeff Fisher: The Paragon of Stability
(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

In an era where some NFL franchises see more firings than division titles, it is quite a feat for a coach to last five seasons in the league.  

The fact that Tennessee Titans' coach Jeff Fisher has done just that—nearly three times over, no less—is downright unfathomable.

Thanks in no small part to former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher, the phrase "The Dean of NFL Head Coaches" has been thrown around more times than a penalty flag at a Raiders game.

Yet it bears significance in this day and age of "what have you done for me lately?" that a head coach (at almost any level) can stick around to see a team through the good, the bad, and the ugly.  

Other than Pittsburgh and its super stable Rooney ownership, can you imagine a team sticking to a coach who went 4-12 and was six years removed from his last Super Bowl appearance, as was the case in Tennessee in 2005?

No doubt, most general managers and owners would be whipping out their Blackberries, hard at work wooing the coordinator and college ranks even before the ink was dry on the last game's recap.   

However, as the dawn of the 2009 season approaches, Nashville is abuzz with what promises to be yet another Titans season filled with the promise of a deep playoff run.

Which is all the more amazing given the chaotic beginning to Fisher's coaching career.

 

1994-1998: "Like a Rolling Stone"

Fisher took over 10 games into the 1994 season, replacing the fired Jack Pardee, going 1-5. Yet the management and the owners saw enough promise to keep him on board for the next season, and he didn't disappoint; his squad churned out a much more respectable 7-9 showing the next year.  

After two great drafts that yielded both Steve McNair and Eddie George, the then-Houston Oilers were poised for a leap out of mediocrity. However, one thing they didn't factor on was their soon-to-be nomadic status.

In 1997, after failing to secure a new stadium deal with Houston, owner Bud Adams moved the team to Tennessee, with Nashville to be their eventual home.   

The catch, however, was that the squad had to play on borrowed turf for two seasons. In fact, the 1997 season finale against the Steelers in Memphis saw nearly twice as many black and yellow terrible towels than baby blue Oilers gear.  

But amidst all the turmoil, Fisher remarkably kept his team respectable, going 8-8 for three straight seasons.  

It was two years later, however, their first at their permanent home, that the newly coined Titans finally hit their stride and realized their potential.

 

1999-2003: "Contenders"

Home sweet home, indeed.  

Tennessee opened the year 8-2, and didn't lose once at the then-named Adelphia Coliseum.  

Fisher took them all the way to the Super Bowl that season, losing a heartbreaker to the St. Louis Rams, the other Cinderella story that season.  

With the exception of 2001's disappointing 7-9 campaign, this was a glory era for the franchise. Even if Fisher were to have been dismissed after the 2004 anomaly, he would have arguably gone down as one of the best coaches in franchise history.

 

2004-2006: "Rebuilding"

This era was perhaps the most painful to watch for Titans fans.  It'd have been one thing if the beloved franchise cornerstones—Steve McNair, Samari Rolle, Derrick Mason, et al.—were merely having a bad year or two. But to see them depart in such an unceremonious fashion to the hated Baltimore Ravens made matters that much worse.

Many deemed it to be sink-or-swim time for coach Fisher.  

Yet there was abundant optimism with the drafting of the Texas Longhorns' Vince Young. His unorthodox talent invited the inevitable comparisons to a young McNair. In 2006, the Titans recorded a respectable 8-8 record, and again, Fisher's uncanny knack for getting the most out of what he had was being realized.

True, Patriots coach Bill Belichick traditionally got all the attention when it came to turning ragtag bunches into winners, mostly because of his Super Bowl rings.

But there was no denying that Fisher possessed the knack, even with the oft-troubled malcontent Adam "Pacman" Jones on the roster.

 

2007-Present: "Back in the Saddle"

Once again, Fisher has made the Titans into legitimate contenders. Things have practically come full circle to those halcyon days of nearly 10 years ago when every season had Super Bowl aspirations.  

Fisher is quick to give credit to Titans owner Bud Adams.

"He's been in it a long time. He knows you can't avoid injuries. We had a couple of years we underachieved, but there was a reason. He also understands there's going to be some salary cap things eventually (you're) going to have to work through, and he understands that," he told the Associated Press in 2007.  

Regardless of this year's outcome, one gets the feeling that Fisher won't be going anywhere. Granted, there is always the school of thought that certain coaches can bring instant wins based on their glossy resumés, but that sort of success is rarely sustainable.  

Just ask Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder, who gave it a go with Bill Parcells and Joe Gibbs, respectively.  

Regardless of the endless storylines and rumors that accommodate every NFL franchise, Titans fans can take heart that with Fisher at the helm, Tennessee will always have a shot. 

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