It is time to ask the question.
Is 2011 the beginning of a new era for Jeff Fisher as head coach of the Tennessee Titans or is it the beginning of the end?
With the news the last two days that three long-time assistant coaches will not return, the organization officially entered the most significant coaching overhaul of its Tennessee tenure.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil was told that he would not be retained, and the Minnesota Vikings hired running backs coach Craig Johnson to be their quarterbacks coach. Those moves came Thursday, one day after the Philadelphia Eagles hired defensive line coach Jim Washburn.
“It caught me a little off guard no question about that,” Cecil told The Associated Press. “I understand. I'm the defensive coordinator, and we didn't play as well as needed to on defense. [Fisher is] the head coach, and he has to do what he thinks is the right thing to move forward.”
Fisher did not return phone calls from The City Paper.
All three had been with the franchise since 2001 or longer and none had any experience as an NFL coach before Fisher hired them.
Fisher, who holds the official title executive vice president and head coach, has control of coaching staff decisions. He also has just one year remaining on his contract, and owner Bud Adams did not exactly give him a vote of confidence when he took nearly a week after the final game of the regular season to declare publicly that Fisher would return for his 17th season.
So whether they’re being run off or they’re jumping ship in search of better job security, the sudden exodus of assistants casts an air of desperation of Fisher and those who remain.
"The way this business is things happen fast so obviously if I'd have known last week, then I'd probably have a few more opportunities,” Cecil said. “But hopefully there's still a few opportunities out there for me.”
Fisher traditionally has been fiercely loyal to his assistants, and most often when they have left it has been for better positions with other organizations. The last time he had more than two staff openings in an offseason was 2000, when Gregg Williams became head coach at Buffalo and took with him Jerry Gray and Ronnie Vinklarck — both at higher positions than what they held with the Titans.
In this case, Cecil, who worked his way up through four different jobs since 2001, simply was cut loose. Washburn took the same position with Philadelphia he’d held with the Titans since 1999. Johnson took a position with Minnesota identical to the second of three he had with the Titans and held the longest (2002-09).
“[Johnson] has done a good job over the course of his career and I’m looking forward to him being a great addition to our staff," Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said in announcing the addition of Johnson.
The last three times Fisher hired a defensive coordinator, he promoted from within — first with Williams, then Jim Schwartz and Cecil.
Such days of continuity obviously are now a thing of the past. Does that mean a year from now Fisher will be the same?