Coaching shuffle signals Fisher's desperation or imminent demise — or both

Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 11:01pm

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?

7 Comments on this post:

By: richgoose on 1/21/11 at 8:42

There are things that happen in order to average 8 and 8. Fisher is well above 8 and 8 for his tenure.

This franchise will have to have some gloomy days in order to get back to their heritage of 8 and 8.

I have great empathy for the fans who believe in this team and whose principal source of entertainment are the Titans and Metro Parks golf.

By: localboy on 1/21/11 at 10:45

Cecil and Washburn were involved along the way with some pretty good defensive schemes for the team - good luck to them at their new jobs. Bye-Bye.

By: wayneCaluger on 1/21/11 at 12:03

I'm don't see any correlation between Ceil and 'some pretty good defensive schemes (taking the great DL coach out of any equation associated with Ceil). Here was a guy with no prior coaching experience at any level prior to joining the Titans in 2001that Fisher promoted over Dave McGinnis who had 13 years of college coaching experience plus 14 years of NFL coaching experience, including a stint as Defensive coordinator, head coach and a finalist for the Bears head coaching in 1999. His head coaching record was attributed to management lack of obtaining quality talent.

Read "How Fisher butchered the Cecil decision" taking note of • Fisher finally realized the extent of the team’s discontent with Cecil after hearing from Jim Washburn, the defensive line coach who bolted for Philadelphia Wednesday. Though several players had told the head coach they would be disinclined to return if Cecil remained, Fisher didn’t take such talk as seriously as he should have. Thursday, the switch finally flipped.

Anyway, thank God and Greyhound Ceil is gone, a day late and millions of dollars short. If Fisher is not going to take over as Defensive coordinator the only inside or outside choice is Dave McGinnis since I cannot image anyone better than Ceil jumping onto a sinking ship.

Granted Jim Schwartz had a tough job his first year taking over for then departed Greg Williams whose Titian defensive led the league in total defense giving up 191 points, the third fewest in the NFL since the league adopted the 16-game schedule in 1978 leading the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV.

However, Schwartz had a excuse his first year with the Titans purging their roster due to salary cap issues. Outside of losing Fat Albert Ceil has no excuse for taking a 2008 Jim Schwartz defense that guided the Titans to an NFL-best 13-3 record and an AFC South title. A defense that finished the 2008 season ranked in the top 10 in several key defensive categories, including: defensive points allowed (third, 14.2), total yards allowed (seventh, 293.6), rushing yards allowed (sixth, 93.9), passing yards allowed, third down percentage allowed (6th, 35.0) and sacks (fifth, 44) to the bottom.

Most head coaches would have fired Ceil midway 2009 or at least waved bye-bye at season end. With McGinnis in the wings and with Fisher prior Defensive coordinator experience I have never understood why any head coach would stand by for two years allowing a once proud and hallmark defense sink to this low?

Whoever accepts whatever open Titan coaching positions I wish them best of luck. From here on the only direction is now up.

The best of luck to Jim Washburn.

By: TITAN1 on 1/21/11 at 1:21

localboy, Wayne will post a book's worth of his opinion to try and prove you wrong.

By: jwk6179 on 1/21/11 at 2:39

You also have to notice that the NUMBER of penalties (especially UNSPORTSMANLIKE PENALTIES and PERSONAL FOULS) increased once Chuck Cecil became Defensive Coordinator after Jim Schrwartz left. And Chuck Cecil had a problem with his MIDDLE FINGERS that I don't believe Jim Schwartz had or that Dave McGinness would have had, either.

By: wayneCaluger on 1/22/11 at 10:39

Find it odd that Fisher gave Ceil a one year extension then after meetings with Washburn attempting to keep him he cut Ceil the next day.

Find it odd in 2009 after it became obvious to many Ceil was floundering Fisher did not put McGinnis in charge mid season of 2009 knowing he was far more qualified than Ceil. No clue as to what Fisher was thinking when he kept Ceil for 2010 after wrecking Jim Schrwartz defense his first season.

Fisher had a shot at Greg Williams who was expecting a call from the Titans that never came. Being the former Titan defensive coordinator who Jim Schrwartz would have been familiar with the Titans defense playbook with some exceptions, a reason Fisher gave on promoting from within. Ditto for McGinnis who had been with the Titian's since "04.

Anyway a real mess now. Bud can forget a Super Bowl appearance during his remaining life time. I'm not sure if we will see even a wild card chance anytime soon.

By: cookeville on 1/26/11 at 2:46

Fisher's continued loyalty to those who have no talent is one big factor in the demise of this team.