Thursday, January 27, 2011

Departure of Fisher raises eyebrows, questions

It’s rare but not unprecedented to see a surprise firing of a head coach in late January.  Two years ago, the Bucs and Broncos dumped Jon Gruden and Mike Shanahan, respectively, long after Black Monday had ended.
But for the move to come after the team announced that the coach would return breaks new ground — and borders on the boundaries of bizarre.
“With what I am paying him, I am not going to let him go and pay him a lot of money,” owner Bud Adams told Jim Wyatt of the Nashville Tennessean earlier this month.  “I was thinking we could get him and Vince [Young] together, but it wasn’t going to work so I had to stick with Jeff and let Vince go.”
Apart from the most obvious question, the move raises plenty of issues for further consideration.

1.  Does this mean quarterback Vince Young will stay?
Adams’ past words suggest an either-or proposition.  ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that the Titans still plan to trade or release Young.  (They most likely won’t be able to trade him, given that he’s owed a hefty roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2011 league year.)  Given the abrupt reversal that has occurred regarding Fisher, we can’t rule out an eventual reversal regarding Young, too.
2.  Is Fisher being paid not to coach the team in 2011?
Adams made it clear he had no interest in paying Fisher not to coach.  So did Fisher give up his right to be paid in 2011 for the ability to make his exit?
Apparently, no. reports that Fisher will receive nearly $8 million to not coach the team in 2011, the final year of his contract.
Other reports indicate that Fisher was due to earn only $6.5 million for the final year of his contract.
3.  Who will coach the team now?
Over the weekend, Charley Casserly of CBS reported that offensive line coach Mike Munchak would be the best candidate to succeed Fisher after 2011.  There’s a chance that timetable has been accelerated.
Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean says the “early indications” point to Munchak.
Promoting Munchak would provide some continuity in an offseason in which, given the lockout, continuity would be critical.
But what about Eric Mangini, lurking in the weeds as a candidate for defensive coordinator?  Maybe he actually has been lurking for a spot one level higher on the organizational chart.
Regardless, the Titans will have to comply with the Rooney Rule.  So they’ll need to keep their cards close to the vest as to the identity of Fisher’s successor.
4.  What’s next for Fisher?
The media-friendly Fisher could land a job with ESPN or NFL Network.  Or he could roll up his sleeves and serve as defensive coordinator with a team that still hasn’t hired one, like the Eagles.
Or, possibly, his departure could be the first domino in a late-January chain reaction that sees another team pull a surprise switcheroo.
What if, for example, Peyton Manning were to include in his contract demands with the Colts an off-the-record request for a potential upgrade at the position of head coach?
Not many players could pull off such a power play.  Peyton Manning is one of the few who can.
That said, Fisher likely wouldn’t be an upgrade over Jim Caldwell.  Still, plenty of folks in the media seem to believe that Fisher is a top-shelf coach, despite earning only six playoff births in 16-plus NFL seasons and presiding over a team that widely is regarded as one of the dirtiest in the league.  If Peyton is among those who seem to be irrationally smitten with Fisher, the quarterback definitely is in the unique position to privately express his views, and to expect them to be adopted.
We know, we know.  It’s a crazy, kooky-talk suggestion.  But stranger things have happened.  Today.
5.  What made this happen now?

After everything that has occurred since the 2010 season ended, the true story regarding Fisher’s departure surely has details that will provide plenty of fodder for analysis and debate.
The notion that the 88-year-old Adams suddenly decided to pay Fisher $8 million to walk away has a Leon Hess feel to it. Adams apparently thinks he has developed a strategy for winning a Super Bowl that doesn’t include the guy who finagled only one appearance in the NFL title game in 16-plus years on the job.
Or maybe Adams realizes that, with only one more year together, Fisher likely wouldn’t do what he hadn’t previously done since getting the job in 1994.  So why not start his successor’s tenure one year sooner?

author:  Mike Florio
photo:  Streeter Lecka

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