|12-28-2006, 12:54 PM||#1|
Join Date: Mar 2004
mangini and the Jets get to respect from ESPN at all
Fisher turned Titans into unlikely winnersBy Michael Smith
My criterion for coach of the year is simple: he who does the most with the least.
In 2006, that coach has been Tennessee's Jeff Fisher. The favorites appear to be rookie coaches Eric Mangini of the Jets and Sean Payton of the Saints. But they've had more to work with. That's not to say they haven't been outstanding. But Fisher's team has you scratching your head wondering how it is in the playoff conversation this late in the season. I can't say I'm all that surprised by the success of the Jets and Saints.
I sat in Fisher's office during Titans training camp and he told me his team, 9-23 the previous two seasons, would surprise people. Fisher can be quite convincing, but I had my doubts. Fisher's prediction didn't look so good when the Titans got off to an 0-5 start.
Marvin Gentry/US Presswire
Jeff Fisher is in his 13th season as the Titans head coach.But lo and behold, they've turned it around, winning eight of their past 10 and six in a row. The Titans' 8-7 record is legit. Tennessee has faced the league's third-toughest schedule, which concludes Sunday at home against 11-4 New England. Titans opponents have a combined winning percentage of .567. Tennessee has played nine games against teams that are .500 or better.
No team has made the playoffs despite such a dreadful start, and the Titans must win Sunday and get a lot of help to play in the postseason. But the mere fact that they're even in this position speaks to the job Fisher and his staff are doing. And they're doing it with the second-youngest team in the league (the players' average age at the start of the season was 25 years, 281 days) and with a rookie quarterback who, however poised, technically should be a senior in college.
You could see even when the Titans were 2-7 that they were a scrappy bunch. They had the ball and a chance to tie with less than a minute remaining in a loss to the Jets. They turned it over at the two-minute warning in a three-point loss at Miami. They lost in Indianapolis by a point in Vince Young's second start. They had an attempt at a potential winning field goal blocked in the final seconds against Baltimore.
Point is, the Titans have played better than their record suggests. But in reality, they aren't as good as their record. Even some within the Tennessee organization have admitted as much.
As fine a job as Mangini and Payton have done, they have more talent and experience and have teams led by proven quarterbacks. New York was a field goal from the AFC title game two years ago. The Saints just missed the playoffs that year. Injuries destroyed the Jets' 2005 season, Hurricane Katrina the Saints'.
Statistically, the Saints have the league's top-rated offense, and in the past eight weeks, no team has allowed fewer points than the Jets. Meanwhile, the Titans have been, as they say, ham-and-egging it the past month and a half. The defense allowed 13 points to Philadelphia despite being on the field for a whopping 91 snaps. The Titans, with plenty of help from the Giants, rallied from a 21-0 deficit in the final 10 minutes. Then Tennessee beat Indianapolis on a 60-yard field goal by Rob Bironas. Houston played for overtime and the Titans won on Young's walk-off touchdown run. Tennessee scored three defensive touchdowns to win in Jacksonville two weeks ago.
In five of their wins, including Sunday's in Buffalo, the Titans overcame deficits of eight or more points. They're finding ways to win, but they have been ways you can't count on. But, hey, all victories count the same. And Tennessee has more than most would have imagined.
Statistically, the Titans rank 27th in offense and last in defense. Fisher has them committed to running the football, and the players are making big plays at key moments in all three phases.
It isn't just Fisher; he'll tell you that. Coach of the year is very much a staff honor, and Fisher has one of the best. Give credit to offensive coordinator Norm Chow and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson for the way they've collaborated on polishing a raw prospect such as Young and adapted to the quarterback's unique skills. Veteran wide receivers coach Ray Sherman is getting the most from unheralded players such as Drew Bennett, Bobby Wade and Brandon Jones. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak's and running backs coach Sherman Smith's groups have made it possible for the Titans to protect Young as well as they have and become a power running team featuring Travis Henry & Co.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz oversees a group that probably is better than the stats suggest. Schwartz and assistants Jim Washburn (defensive line), Dave McGinnis (linebackers), Chuck Cecil (safeties, nickelbacks coach) and Everett Withers (defensive backs) have had to work a lot of overtime this season. Tennessee's defense is on the field for an average of 32 minutes, 55 seconds a game, highest in the league. The Titans' offense is near the top of the league in three-and-out drives. But the D has hung in there, surviving without stud tackle Albert Haynesworth for his five-game suspension.
Special-teams coach Alan Lowry's unit has produced game-changing plays in the form of big returns from Adam "Pacman" Jones and clutch kicks from Bironas.
After the way the season started and with the players Tennessee had to start, there's no way the Titans should be thinking about the playoffs. But Fisher and his staff held things together through the rough times.
Fisher is standing the test of time. Only the Steelers' Bill Cowher (for now, that is) has been with his current team longer than Fisher has coached the Oilers/Titans (since 1995). Just a few years ago, the Titans were a league power. Fisher guided them to Super Bowl XXXIV. But this may be his best coaching job yet. Fisher has an option year remaining on his contract, and his job status in Tennessee was in doubt during the team's rough start.
How ridiculous does that seem now?
There are lots of worthy candidates for coach of the year. The way the business works nowadays, any head coach who isn't looking for work after the season did a commendable job.
I don't vote, but if I did, I'd cast it for Fisher.
THIS ARTICLE IS BS IF FISHER WAS SUCH A GREAT COACH HE SHOULD HAVE STRATED VINCE YOUNG FROM GAME ONE. ALSO VINCE YOUNG'S DEVELOPMENT TURNED THE TITANS AROUND NOT JEFF FISHER..........