At least the Indianapolis Colts know what lies in their immediate future: A wild card-round playoff game here next Saturday evening against the New York Jets and Coach Blowhard, and a week’s worth of bad foot-fetish jokes.
Jeff Fisher? Well, the Tennessee Titans’ coach isn’t as certain, although he likely has an inkling of what’s about to come. He exited Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday night as a man who steadfastly refused to even sneak a glance out the windshield.
Or seemingly so.
“I don’t really have a comment on it,” said Fisher, when asked about speculation on his job security, following a last-second, 23-20 loss to the Colts. “I’m under contract (for next year). … So, we’ll go to work tomorrow, the same as always.”
Well, not quite the same.
Maybe only once before in his lengthy tenure as the Tennessee head coach has Fisher concluded a season with his future such a lightning-rod issue. But with the Titans having dropped eight of the last nine games, and owner Bud Adams seeming to publicly side with banished quarterback Vince Young in his very conspicuous tete-a-tete with Fisher, there is a very real chance the league’s longest-tenured head coach will be excused from the final season of his contract.
Adams did not make an appearance in the Titans’ locker room after the game, and was absent from the general vicinity of the interview area.
Sources from the Titans told The Sports Xchange on Sunday night that, beyond their normal annual review of the season, Fisher and Adams have no special huddle yet planned. FOXSports.com reported such a meeting could take place Monday, though The Sports Xchange couldn’t immediately confirm it.
But it is unlikely that Adams will allow Fisher, the franchise’s head coach since succeeding Jack Pardee with six games to play in 1994, to dangle indefinitely. Still, there is the matter of the roughly $6 million Fisher is due for 2011. And with the uncertainty regarding the labor discussions, and the lingering possibility of a lockout by owners that could severely diminish revenues, just about anything is possible for the Titans and for Fisher.
Note, we said just about anything.
Because one veteran player and an assistant coach strongly suggested that a Fisher-Young rapprochement seems impossible. If that is the case, Adams will have to choose between his quarterback and his coach, and Fisher could come out on the short end of such a decision.
Which would disappoint at least some Tennessee players.
“I’d kill for the man; I’d die for him,” said strong safety Chris Hope, after Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri converted on a 43-yard field goal on the contest’s final play to conclude Tennessee’s season at a disappointing 6-10 and last-place status in the AFC South. “He’s the kind of coach every player wants to have in his career. He can’t play the game. He can’t block people and tackle people and all that. This isn’t his fault. It’d be a shame (if he’s not back).”
According to Hope and several other Titans’ veterans, Fisher did not deliver any kind of special pregame pronouncement, and offered no update after the contest about his fate. The players will, as scheduled, report for typical exit physicals. There will be the normal game post-mortems and video review. Until further notice, at least, things will remain as normal.
Or about as normal as they can be, given the circumstances.
“The whole thing is (nerve-wracking),” said Titans’ cornerback Courtland Finnegan.
Most players, even the senior-most Tennessee veterans, offered the requisite “we don’t have any control over the situation” type of reply when asked about Fisher. But the club punctuated his long resume with a pretty impressive resume entry on Sunday afternoon.
In truth, having been eliminated from the postseason and with nothing but dignity for which to play on Sunday, the Titans offered up a pretty nervy effort against their NFC South rivals. Tennessee permitted 358 yards and 24 first downs, but limited Peyton Manning to 264 yards (his second-lowest full-game performance versus the Titans since 2007), and held the Indianapolis offense to punts on four consecutive possessions at one point. The Titans recovered a Dominic Rhodes fumble on a fifth straight series.
Poised to perhaps steal the game — and force the Colts to back into a playoff spot, courtesy of a Jacksonville loss at Houston — the Titans coughed up the game when quarterback Kerry Collins fumbled a snap.
Said middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch: “We came in with nothing to play for … and we still played hard. I think that says something about the character here.”
Symbolic of the Tennessee effort was the final play of the first half. Kicker Rob Bironas was woefully short on a 61-yard field goal attempt, and Indianapolis safety Antoine Bethea returned the miss inside the Titans’ 10-yard line where he was then pulled down by tight end Craig Stevens. Even though the play was nullified by a blindside-hit penalty against the Colts’ Gary Brackett, Stevens sprinted about 50 yards to make the tackle, and the effort wasn’t overlooked by the embattled Fisher.
It was the kind of effort, Fisher, 52, said, that he expected from his charges.
“I don’t think,” Fisher said, “the effort’s been lacking. This team has always been prepared. Anyone who says otherwise needs to look at the tape.”
It’s doubtful, though, that Adams will break out the video machine in assessing his head coach. Since taking over the franchise, Fisher has compiled a 147-126 record, with playoff games included. He has won three division titles — two since the NFL re-aligned into four-team divisions in 2002 — and been to the playoff six times. His tenure includes a Super Bowl XXXIV defeat.
Those accomplishments, and the gutsy effort of Sunday, might not be enough to retain Fisher for another season. If not, his players provided an appropriately gritty effort here Sunday afternoon.
“(Fisher) never said a word about the situation,” Hope said. “He just said, “Go out and have fun, and turn it loose, and don’t worry about what’s happened or what might happen.’ And we did exactly like he said.”
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.