Jeff Fisher's departure from the Tennessee Titans, ending the longest current head-coaching tenure in the NFL, was hastened by a series of events, none more significant than the team's refusal to hire his son, Brandon, league sources said Friday.
And with Fisher gone, offensive line coach Mike Munchak has become a strong internal candidate to replace him, with New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams a strong outside candidate, the sources said.
Fisher worked out an agreement with Titans owner Bud Adams this week whereby he will receive $8 million in severance to leave the organization. Several developments led to this outcome.
The departure of longtime defensive line coach Jim Washburn to the Philadelphia Eagles, with his contract expiring, took a toll. Then Fisher agonized over the decision of whether or not to fire defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, a close friend, which he ultimately decided to do.
During that process, Fisher was granted approval to pursue elite defensive coordinators and to hire his son, Brandon, to join the staff. But those potential moves were blocked, and without the ability to land those top candidates, the Titans balked at hiring Brandon Fisher, a catalyst to Fisher leaving, the sources said.
Two years ago, the Titans were pursuing Williams to be their defensive coordinator, but he wanted to work with his son, Blake, and the team wouldn't allow it. Williams, who spent the bulk of his career working on Fisher's staff, ultimately took less money to work with his son, who is earning a strong reputation around the league, in New Orleans, where they won a Super Bowl together.
With Fisher blocked from hiring his son, his frustration grew, sources said. That, coupled with the lingering coordinator vacancy and Fisher's mounting concern about being a lame-duck coach with a rebuilding franchise, all led to his desire to leave.
The Titans, in turn, were growing frustrated with the coordinator search and felt hamstrung trying to put parts in place for the future with a head coach who wouldn't be signing an extension to stay beyond 2012. So both sides had sufficient motivation to reach a settlement now and move on.
Munchak, a Hall of Famer player, is well thought of by Adams and is a distinguished coach and successful businessman. He is being given strong consideration for the job, league sources said.
Hiring Munchak would allow Adams to keep a good part of his current staff, which would save money after having to pay Fisher to depart. Munchak then almost certainly would hire close friend and business partner Bruce Matthews, also a respected former player, to replace him as offensive line coach, sources said.
Williams also has a strong relationship with Adams, boasts head-coaching experience and was a candidate for the Denver Broncos' opening a few weeks back before withdrawing from consideration. He maintains strong ties to Nashville and could be open to the job, league sources believe.
Some would point to the Titans' nepotism stance, and Williams' past experience with it, as an indication that he wouldn't go there without his son. Blake Williams, however, is thought of highly enough in New Orleans that the Saints could block any request for him, regardless.
Munchak and Gregg Williams have a strong relationship. And with the defensive coordinator job still open, the Titans likely would approach Williams for that position, if not for head coach, but the Saints almost certainly would block any lateral move.
As for Fisher, he likely will wait until 2012 before returning to coaching, sources said, when he would be a sought-after commodity and could reunite with Williams then as well. In the meantime, Fisher would be coveted by several networks as an analyst, which he has dabbled with in the past.