NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In a surprising move, the Tennessee Titans have parted ways with Jeff Fisher, who just completed his 16th full season as the NFL’s longest-tenured coach.
The team said in a release Thursday night that “Fisher will no longer be the head coach of the team.” The Titans announced the move within an hour of a report by SI.com that they were negotiating Fisher’s departure.
A source told ESPN’s John Clayton that one of the final disagreements that led to Fisher’s departure involved his son, Brandon. Jeff Fisher wanted to have his son on the staff as a quality control coach and thought that was going to be approved. Brandon Fisher helped out during the season while offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was receiving cancer treatment.
For several years, Adams has stressed he didn’t want family hired on the Titans coaching staff and he apparently stuck by those principles this week in conversations with Fisher.
Heimerdinger has recovered from his bout with cancer and would be willing to be a candidate to replace Fisher, a source said.
A team release said the search for a new coach would begin Friday.
Though Fisher, 52, had been derided locally as “Coach .500” or “Coacho Ocho,” he seemingly had just survived a battle with quarterback Vince Young. Titans owner Bud Adams decided on Jan. 5 to either release Young or trade him. The owner announced two days later that he would be keeping Fisher.
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 exploded.
Young tossed his shoulder pads and other equipment into the stands after an overtime loss in which the quarterback suffered a season-ending injury.
Running back Chris Johnson said Wednesday while practicing in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl that he didn’t think Fisher and Young could work together after “it hit the fan.”
In the end, neither Fisher nor Young survived with the Titans.
Even though Adams announced he was sticking with Fisher for the final year of his contract, the move meant Fisher would be coaching for his future in 2011. Fisher has repeatedly said he wanted to finish his career with the franchise, but the coach known for never losing his cool in public while hiding behind his sunglasses may have decided Adams’ decision wasn’t good enough.
“I want to thank Mr. Adams and the organization for a special 17 years,” Fisher said in a statement released by the team. “I can’t thank the fans enough for the support they showed us through the years; 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.”
More details could come out Friday. The team has scheduled a news conference for noon ET to discuss the first coaching change since the franchise relocated to Tennessee from Houston in 1997. 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.
A flurry of coaching changes didn’t help Fisher’s situation. He fired his defensive coordinator, Chuck Cecil, a week ago after giving him a contract for the 2011 season. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn decided last week to take the same job with Philadelphia and his departure was followed by that of running backs coach Craig Johnson, who signed with Minnesota as the Vikings quarterbacks coach.
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 all-time in coaching victories.
Adams promoted Fisher from defensive coordinator to interim coach with six games left in the 1994 season after firing Jack Pardee. Adams removed the interim tag after that season and has stayed with Fisher longer than any other coach with the franchise the billionaire founded.
Fisher oversaw the team’s relocation from Houston during which the Oilers played in four different stadiums between 1996 and 1999 before moving into their current home.
Since 1999, Tennessee ranks seventh in the NFL in winning percentage with a 110-82 record. The Titans also are tied for fourth with six playoff seasons since 1999, though a second straight miss this past season will drop the team down that list.
But the Titans haven’t won a playoff game since beating Baltimore in a 2004 wild-card matchup. Tennessee lost a wild-card game in San Diego in 2007 and wasted the AFC’s top seed in 2008.