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NKySteeler
12-16-2008, 11:25 PM
Bob Labriola, a Pittsburgh native, has been editor of Steelers Digest since its inception in 1988. This page offers him an opportunity to provide additional insights into the Steelers, the NFL and the events that are making news.

In the NFL, the attention typically is focused on the coach and the quarterback, but the 2008 Tennessee Titans won 12 of their first 13 games without having one of the game’s rock stars holding down either job.

The Titans are physical on both lines of scrimmage, they have two running backs who complement each other wonderfully and their defensive backs are as opportunistic as any unit in football.

Hey, maybe the Titans are that rare NFL team that’s winning in spite of their coach and quarterback.

Don’t believe it.

When Bill Cowher resigned from the Steelers following the 2006 season, Jeff Fisher became the longest tenured coach in the NFL. Hired 10 games into the 1994 season, Fisher is still doing what he does because he’s good at it.

“He’s been there,” offensive tackle Michael Roos said recently about Fisher. “He knows what to expect and what to expect of us — and he doesn’t ask too much of us.”

Knowing your team is critical to any coach being successful, especially in an NFL loaded with huge contracts and often bigger egos, and the way Fisher used that knowledge to navigate a tricky situation at the start of this season should prove to everyone that he is one of the best in the business. And the situation Fisher had to handle correctly or risk losing his players before September was even half over had to do with the quarterback.

By picking Vince Young third overall in the 2006 NFL draft, the Titans had anointed him the face of the franchise, and he seemed to justify that status by leading the team to the playoffs in his second season as an electrifying player whose legs were as potent a weapon as his right arm. But before the Titans’ 2008 opening 14-10 win over the Jaguars
was officially in the books, Young had thrown two interceptions, got booed, pouted, had to be talked back into the game by Fisher and then injured his knee.

The combination of Young’s diva act coupled with an ensuing 24 hours in which Young either did or did not entertain thoughts of harming himself and/or quitting football, Fisher had a delicate, yet public, situation on his hands.

The knee injury to Young actually was a blessing because it gave Fisher the immediate option of turning to veteran Kerry Collins, who had been signed in 2006 to ease Young’s transition from the god-like status he enjoyed in college at Texas to the everything-is-the-quarterback’s-fault reality of the NFL.

But even if Fisher’s move to Collins was obvious and inevitable given the Titans’ depth chart, it also was not without its risks. Collins, once anointed the face of the Carolina Panthers franchise, had gone down in flames there and become a journeyman — albeit one with a rocket throwing arm — who was averaging about 17 interceptions in every one of his seasons as a fulltime starter.

“If Kerry had laid an egg, there would have been problems in the locker room,” said veteran center Kevin Mawae. “But he came in, played successfully and challenged guys to elevate their game.”

Had Collins not stabilized this most important position, or had he gotten injured as he had in so many of his previous 13 seasons, and if Fisher had been forced to go back to Young ...

But Fisher hasn’t had to make that move because of the way Collins has responded to what the offense has asked him to do. Remembering what Roos said about Fisher not asking too much of players, well, Collins would seem to be the perfect example.

“A lot of what happens for a quarterback in this league,” said Collins, “depends on what kind of car you’ve got to drive. This is a pretty good car.”

And it’s a model that will run you over.

With rookie Chris Johnson (1,094 yards, 4.9 average through 13 games) and LenDale White (674 yards, 4.0 average), the Titans have a prototype one-two punch at running back even to the degree that Johnson is a breakaway threat and White is the hammer. And before anyone assumes that the Titans are running the ball between the 20-yard lines, they should understand Tennessee had 22 rushing touchdowns through Week 14, second in the NFL to Carolina’s 23.

These two have been successful because they get to operate behind one of the league’s top offensive lines, one that has the veteran at center (Mawae) and the bookend tackles (Roos and David Stewart).

Their leading wide receiver, Brandon Jones, might be 43rd in the AFC with 36 catches, but that hasn’t stopped the Titans’ offense from ranking seventh in the NFL in scoring.

And before last weekend’s games, only two teams had fewer turnovers than Tennessee’s 15.

“Kerry understands that the odds of converting a third-and-13 are not very good,” said Fisher. “So, put it on the ground, punt and put together a drive the next time.”

And after the punt, the Titans roll out a unit ranked no lower than seventh in the NFL in every defensive category kept by the league. Everybody is familiar with Albert Haynesworth, but the leader of this unit is veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck, who responded to an 0-4 start in 2006 by telling his teammates he was going to do everything he could to make the team better — including playing special teams — and he challenged them to do the same.

“We responded as a team, and we started playing football the way it’s supposed to be played,” said Bulluck. “We got our identity back.”

SuperSize
12-17-2008, 10:39 AM
Of the 31 other head coaches in the NFL, Fisher is the guy I respect the most.


Pete

fordfixer
12-17-2008, 11:24 AM
Great read NKy thanks for posting.

NorthCoast
12-17-2008, 10:40 PM
Of the 31 other head coaches in the NFL, Fisher is the guy I respect the most.


Pete

You got it, I would bet a players poll would have Fisher ranked in the top 3 coaches to play for. He knows how to put together a winning team and doesn't need the prima-donnas like 'coaches' Jerry Jones or Daniel Snyder try to get for media attention.

(Note to Jones: games are won on the field, not in the media)

steeler_fan_in_t.o.
12-19-2008, 12:29 AM
Just wondering.......

I always read here on these Steelers boards how great a coach Jeff Fisher is. I do not dispute this.

I also have read over and over about how Bill Cowher was a choke artist.

Both coaches started the same year, only Fisher will soon have coached two more years.

Division titles: Cowher 8, Fisher 3 - with the third this year.

Playoff records: Cowher 12-9, Fisher 5-5

AFC Championship games appearances: Cowher 6, Fisher 2

Super Bowl appearances: Cowher 2, Fisher 1

Super Bowl wins: Cowher 1, Fisher 0

Don't tell me who was left with the better team, who has played in the better division etc. They both coached long enough so that all of that stuff has more or less evened out. The numbers are overwhelmingly tilted in one direction. So, can someone who thinks that Fisher is a great coach, but Cowher was not please explain it to me?