Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 10, 2023

Titans franchise owes big debt to retiring Fisher

American team head coach Jeff Fisher during his last coaching assignment at the 2023 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl game. Coaching the opposition was former Titans great Eddie George. - Photo by Jordon Kelly | Icon Sportswire

A pro football era has ended. Sure, everyone saw Tom Brady re-retired after 23 seasons of play that made him the greatest quarterback in NFL history in the eyes of most.

But it was another era that bears discussion here – a footnote nationally but a big occurrence locally.

Jeff Fisher resigned as head coach of the USFL Michigan Panthers, apparently ending his coaching career at age 64.

“I have made the tough decision to step away from coaching in the USFL to spend more time with my family, including our five grand-babies, and enjoying my semi-retirement to the fullest,” Fisher said in a statement released by the revived spring football league, preparing for the second season of its current incarnation.

To an entire generation of Titans fans, Fisher, who last coached the team 13 years ago, is a mere fable from the franchise’s past, alongside Earl Campbell, Bum Phillips, Bruce Matthews and others. To some, he even became a punchline for all the 8-8 records to which he guided his teams, five in total during his time at the head of the Titans/Oilers coaching org chart.

More recently, he is remembered as a guy who was fired by the Rams, stayed in the background in recent years and then coached the Panthers last spring in the USFL’s return.

I could tell in June when I visited Fisher in Birmingham for a story that he was enjoying simply teaching the game and trying to get his players another shot in the NFL. The on-field results weren’t pretty – the Panthers finished just 2-8 – but Fisher was back in his coaching element.

As for committing to coaching in the USFL long-term, Fisher told me he would evaluate that at a later date. That date arrived Friday.

Maybe he didn’t want to spend four months in Detroit where the Panthers have located their home base. Maybe, as he said, “personal reasons” were behind his decision to hang it up.

But as Fisher ends more than three decades of coaching, the contributions he made to the Titans organization go far beyond the win-loss record he compiled over 17 seasons.

Fisher is the winningest coach in franchise history (142 wins) and guided the team to its only Super Bowl appearance to date. Those accomplishments alone would be quite enough. But to get the full effect of Fisher’s impact in Nashville and on the Titans, one has to dig a bit beneath the surface.

When Bud Adams and then-Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen began negotiating to bring the Oilers to Music City in 1995, few could have predicted what a rough transition that would be.

Through a lame-duck season in 1996 in front of very few fans in Houston to a truncated stay in Memphis in 1997, where locals there resented being used as a stopover for Nashville team after years of trying to land their own NFL franchise, it was Fisher and general manager Floyd Reese who kept the team together and competitive through all the ups and downs.

Those ups and downs included such things as practicing in Nashville and playing games in Memphis, having trailers set up for meetings near the Bellevue Mall. One of those trailers doubled as a media room and a place to hold special teams meetings. The team also had to turn what was basically an open pasture into a practice field.

Things were hardly NFL quality when it came to facilities and how things operated while in transition for a new stadium to be opened in 1999.

The other part that is largely forgotten now is the Oilers were not exactly welcomed by everyone in the Nashville community. A group of citizens united against the efforts to move the team here and spend taxpayer money on a stadium. A referendum passed, but not overwhelmingly, and the moving process began of relocating professional football to Middle Tennessee, where college football was king, and some wondered whether there would be room to share loyalties and money with a new NFL neighbor.

Enter Fisher, who along with Reese, proved to be the perfect face of the franchise it sought to establish roots in the midst of being transplanted from Texas.

In order to help the franchise gain a foothold in Nashville and the Mid-South, Fisher took on the extra responsibility of shaking lots of hands and kissing lots of babies in the early days in order to help fans embrace the soon-to-be Titans.

It wasn’t easy, as the team went through three consecutive 8-8 seasons, doing so in three different cities. Finally, in 1999 when Fisher led the Titans to the Super Bowl – spurred on famously, of course, by the Music City Miracle in the Wild-Card Playoffs – the franchise had arrived.

The misgivings and mistrust that might have existed before with a carpetbagging NFL team arriving on Nashville’s doorstep dissipated with that magical season.

After that, Fisher remained at the helm of the Titans through 2010, going through salary cap jail in 2005 and then helping to rebuild the team into a playoff