The notion that the Titans franchise is in a state of complete and utter chaos is foolish.
Presumably this notion springs from the fact that for the past 16-plus seasons it has been anything but chaotic. Whether you loved Jeff Fisher or despised him, his was a steady hand. He gave away very little publicly, and his players almost always had his back. For crying out loud even his most problem of children rushed to his defense in the wake of his “parting ways” with the Titans.
Just because a franchise has lost a head coach and four assistants and has no discernible QB worth his salt we’re now supposed to believe this team is about to fall into a Raider-like abyss?
I suppose it could happen. Then again, it might not. This is about exactly where the Falcons were after the 2007 season. Actually, they were worse off. Arthur Blank looked like a moron for hiring Bobby Petrino from the University of Louisville. Petrino resigned 13 games into the season, with a 3-10 record, to take over at Arkansas. The players were mostly fine with it because they never liked him anyway.
Petrino ostensibly had taken the job for the chance to mold young quarterback Michael Vick. You might remember that Vick never took another snap for the Falcons. The Falcons used three starting QBs in 2007, immortals all: Joey Harrington (10 starts), Chris Redman (four) and Byron Leftwich (two). Harrington and Leftwich were gone after that season; Harrington never took another NFL snap.
The Titans used three QBs this past season: Vince Young (eight starts), Kerry Collins (seven) and rookie Rusty Smith (one). Only Smith remains under contract.
In Atlanta, DBs coach Emmit Thomas took the reins from Petrino for the final three games. He had been with the franchise before Petrino, and he survived after 2007, too. But everyone knew he wasn’t going to be the next coach.
So there were the Falcons – no head coach, no QB and an owner who had signed Petrino for five years and $24 million. Maybe Bud Adams has allowed some dumb things to happen recently if Fisher re-upped defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil then fired him and extended all of his assistants without front-office knowledge, but he has never hired Bobby Petrino.
The Falcons hired Patriots Director of College Scouting Thomas Dimitroff to be general manager and Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Smith as head coach. The fan base went, “Who? What? Huh? This is how we’re going to recover from a college coach and a QB with a pitbull empire?” Dimitroff and Smith proceeded to take Matt Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Three years later the Falcons have compiled a 33-15 record and have made the playoffs twice. They had the best record in the NFC this season (13-3).
I believe any potential Titans head-coaching candidate should look at this franchise and see a lot of positives. Four openings on the staff? Great, I can hire my own people without a lot of frustration or aggravation. We need a QB? Fine, we have the No. 8 pick in the draft.
Arguably your three best players – RB Chris Johnson, WR Kenny Britt and DT Jason Jones – will be 25 or younger when the 2011 season starts. There are more promising young players, too – DE Derrick Morgan, the 2010 first-round pick, return specialist Marc Mariani, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie this season, and CB Alterraun Verner, another member of the 2010 draft class who emerged as a starter.
Now, I’m not saying the Titans are in an enviable position. Far from it. But I’m at least saying I don’t think they’ll have a draft position in 2012 any worse than what it is this year.
You want a franchise truly in chaos? Ask yourself this: Would I trade the Titans organization – owner, front office, coaches and players – for this franchise, even with its head coach in place? The quarterback is only 31 and he’d rather retire than stay. The starting receivers are more in tune with reality TV than actual reality. The offensive coordinator was fired on Monday. You harped on Fisher for having only six winning records in 16 seasons and his .542 winning percentage; this coach has two in eight seasons and wins at a .469 clip and the franchise signed him to an extension!
The Titans certainly face a challenge. Yes, it’s a big one. But Chaos, thy name is Cincinnati.
The Titans’ offseason suddenly has become messier than a Mel Gibson breakup.
The coach wins his showdown with the mentally fragile quarterback. The beloved d-line coach leaves for another team because he presumably isn’t thrilled with some of the other defensive coaches. The defensive coordinator, who gets re-upped late in the season when no one on earth can figure out a legitimate reason as to why, gets fired by his close friend the coach less than two months later.
I believe you can find this manifesto on the net if you Google “How to Implode an NFL Franchise.”
We’ll know more Friday. The Titans have scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference, and now former Titans head man Jeff Fisher is supposed to be among the attendees. Strike anyone else as a wee bit odd? “Hey, Jeff, you’re out. But while you’re packing up your office could you come down the hall and chat with the media for a bit?” Awkward.
A few other random bits:
- I wrote a player reaction to Fisher’s ouster Thursday night for CBSSports.com. You can find it here: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/story/14610466/players-surprised-by-fishers-exit-at-tennessee. Thanks to the guys who got back to me, especially Jason Babin from Hawaii.
- I wrote another piece for CBSSports.com on Marc Mariani’s journey from University of Montana walk-on to AFC return specialist at the Pro Bowl. Efforts to reach Mariani for reaction to the Fisher news were unsuccessful.
- Here’s a question I’d been pondering all week before I knew the team would be looking for a head coach: Who’s the proverbial “home run” for a defensive coordinator hire? In the pros, there really isn’t one. You can’t hire other DCs because it’s a lateral move and that’s frowned upon if not outright forbidden unless you slip in the added cheesy title of associate head coach. There’s just no one to be had that will appease the fan base.
- The immediate bigger question is who becomes the head coach. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak could be the choie, and he’d be a good one. That would at least bring about some shred of continuity, which looks really necessary at this point. I’d love to see Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams get in the mix, too. He spent 11 seasons with the Oilers/Titans, the last four as DC. The best thing about Williams is he likes to blitz. And he sure did a number on Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl last year.
I’ve now seen the Commodores play exactly half of their 18 games from courtside at Memorial Gym. Here are some observations as they prepare for their final 12 SEC games:1. This is not your father’s Vanderbilt team. It’s unlike any Commodores team I’ve seen either, and I’ve been in Nashville for the past 10 years. It used to be Vandy got by on guile and 3-point shooting. This group might be the most athletic in Vanderbilt history. It has guys on the perimeter who are 6-7, 6-8 and 6-9 who are long and can rebound and defend and finish at the rim. This isn’t Barry Goheen or Scott Draud or Greg LaPointe. This is 6-8 forward Lance Goulbourne posting 56 rebounds in a five-game stretch. This is 6-7 forward Jeffery Taylor catching alley-oop inbounds passes that make SportsCenter anchors squeal. In years past these were the types of players on Kentucky and Tennessee and Alabama who killed Vanderbilt. Now they play for Vanderbilt.
2. One of the many reasons I like Kevin Stallings is because his players get better. The same cannot be said of even a majority of college coaches. Goulbourne is now one of the top rebounders in the SEC. Last year he averaged 2.1 rpg. Center Festus Ezeli has gone from afterthought (3.8 ppg, 3.2 ppg) to focal point (12.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Sophomore guard John Jenkins has raised his scoring average by more than 7 ppg and leads the SEC in scoring (18.7 ppg).
3. Health is a major concern, because if healthy this is a Sweet 16 team, maybe more. Right now Ezeli (knee), backup center Steve Tchiengang (ankle) and forward Andre Walker (ankle) all are struggling with injuries. Walker (4.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.9 apg), a true glue guy, has been limited to eight games. Ezeli and Tchiengang (5.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg) are playing, but their minutes have been limited. With all three Vanderbilt is a serious threat to win the SEC. Walker’s absence has allowed Goulbourne to blossom and freshman Rod Odom to gain valuable experience. But Walker’s calming influence and decision-making will be critical come March.
4. Brad Tinsley (9.9 ppg, 4.6 apg, 4.4 rpg) has played well at the point for the most part. It’s hard to argue with his numbers. But would I trust him with the ball in the closing minutes of a tight first-round NCAA Tournament game? Probably not. Stallings has turned to Taylor to go one-on-one in late-game situations a couple of times, with mixed results. Tinsley has been solid, but if there’s a weak link or a spot where you can attack Vanderbilt, this is it.
5. No lead is safe, in either direction. Already Vanderbilt has blown double-digit leads on the road against Tennessee and South Carolina. If not for those two losses they’d be sitting at 16-2, atop the SEC East and probably in the top 15 in the rankings. But they’ve gotten sloppy with big leads. They can fall into bad habits of taking questionable shots and turning over the ball. By the same token, they can get back in any game, too, because they have some lineups where everybody on the floor can shoot the 3. Jenkins has unlimited range, and Taylor deserves a lot of credit for adding the trey to his arsenal. The crowd loves it when Tchiengang steps out there, too, and he’s perfectly capable.
6. Jenkins is deadly. When the sophomore from Station Camp High School has his feet set, forget it. You can wait for the ball to come out of the bottom of the net. He’s added a stepback 3 to his repertoire, and he already has taken more free throws through 17 games than he did all of last year in 31 games. That’s a critical improvement because he’s one of the best free-throw shooters in the country.