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Fisher's playing cruel game with Young

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Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock writes about the sports world from every angle, including those other writers can't imagine or muster courage to address. His columns are humorous, thought-provoking, agenda-free, honest and unpredictable. E-mail him, follow his Twitter or become a fan of Jason Whitlock on Facebook.

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Jeff Fisher has certainly left himself open to be second-guessed and criticized in the aftermath of his latest feud with Vince Young.

Fisher either wants to be fired or he’s allowed some personal agenda to trump common sense.

With a banged-up and bandaged Young in the lineup on Sunday, it’s likely the Titans knock off Houston and sit atop the AFC South.

Instead, with Young banished to injured reserve after thumb surgery and Kerry Collins parked to nurse a sore calf, rookie quarterback Rusty Smith turned Houston’s league-worst pass defense into a monster, throwing three picks and finishing Houston’s 20-0 rout with an embarrassing 26.8 passer rating.

But it’s not fair to pin Tennessee’s lackluster effort on Rusty Smith. The Titans laid down. Fisher may have “lost” his locker room with his bullying of Young.

Surely, Vince Young spent Sunday afternoon cackling and awaiting apology texts from Jeff Fisher.

Young contended from the outset that he could’ve gutted out the rest of the season and delayed thumb surgery until January or February. Had he, the Titans might be 6-5 today and tied with first-place Jacksonville and Indianapolis in their division.

Before tossing his shoulder pads into the stands and barking at Fisher in the post-game locker room, VY was in the midst of his best season as a professional.

He owned a 98.6 quarterback rating — a whopping 16 points higher than his previous career best. He‘d thrown 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He completed a respectable 60 percent of his passes. And he and the Titans had just added secondary-simplifier and high-priced decoy Randy Moss to the lineup.

Yep, you could put together a pretty compelling argument Fisher overreacted to an emotional locker-room spat and can’t move beyond his six-years-old, draft-day skepticism of Young and preference for USC flameout Matt Leinart.

You could, if inclined, take things a step further and question Fisher’s coaching bona fides. In 16-plus seasons at Tennessee, he’s led the Titans to the playoffs just five times. Since guiding Tennessee to the Super Bowl in his first playoff season, Fisher is a Chuck Knox-like 2-4 in the postseason the last decade.

You could argue, Fisher’s best skill is working the media, particularly ESPN. He’s appeared in at least two of Kenny Mayne’s recent spoof videos. Fisher, with a straight face, signed Chris Mortensen’s son as an undrafted free agent to play quarterback. Mort’s 6-foot-1 son was buried deep on the Arkansas depth chart and bolted Division I-AA Samford after he couldn’t lock up the starting job there.

Somehow, Mort’s son was good enough to crack Tennessee’s training-camp roster and throw an interception in the Hall of Fame exhibition game before getting cut two days later.

Fisher is a genius at working the media. It’s allowed him to build a reputation as the ring-less Bill Belichick.

It’s also allowed him to destroy Vince Young’s reputation without many people offering Young a credible defense.

Now, I’m not a Vince Young fan. I ripped him before the 2005 draft as immature and unprepared to live the life of a franchise quarterback. Throughout his career I’ve never avoided an opportunity to point out his emotional and attitude flaws. In a column last week, I questioned whether Young had the discipline to be a 24/7, 365 quarterback.

I have no interest in giving him the excuse that he’s a victim of “racism.” The Titans gave him a $50 million contract and the chance to be the next Steve McNair. He has the support of the team’s owner. If that’s racism, sign me up.

However, he might be the victim of Fisher’s ego and sway over the media.

From all preseason reports and based on his performance, Vince Young has adjusted and matured. Even Fisher praised Young for his more professional approach.

Has Fisher’s original view of Young adjusted and matured? There is strong evidence it hasn’t. Fisher benched Young in the second game of the season in a tight game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The second game. A week or two later, Fisher justified the benching by leaking to the media that Young was late to and/or missed a team meeting.

Fisher played the “irresponsible” card. Why not go with the “Pittsburgh defense” card? The Steelers have a habit of making life tough on quarterbacks and opposing offenses.

 

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Whatever, Fisher began the process of pushing Young’s buttons, undermining Young’s belief that his coach had his back.

For years, Fisher has subtly questioned Young’s toughness. Last week, Young hurt his thumb and wanted to demonstrate his toughness by finishing the game. It was going to be Young’s Brett Favre/Ronnie Lott moment.

Fisher went with Rusty Smith. Fisher pushed Young’s buttons. Young snapped.

Fisher went back to working the media, feeding us red meat about how unmanly it was for Young to text an apology.

When you ask your injured franchise quarterback to leave the facility so you can have a team meeting, it’s not hard to understand how the QB might reach the conclusion you have no interest in talking to him. Maybe Young wanted to start with a text apology and follow up with a face-to-face meeting?

If Bud Adams has to choose between Fisher and Young next season, I vote that Adams go with Young. It’s what Fisher wants.

Tagged: Titans, Vince Young, Rusty Smith

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