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Fisher, Titans cite differences; coach says it's 'time to move on'

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  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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The atmosphere was so cordial at Tennessee Titans headquarters Friday, it was hard to tell that Jeff Fisher was leaving the team.

Fisher stood behind the podium thanking everyone in the building before exiting with a wave. The Titans' top executives expressed their gratitude for Fisher's work over the years, then discussed how they will replace the coach after mutually agreeing they had reached a point where "it was time to move on" after 16 full seasons.

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"It is just time for a change," Titans owner Bud Adams said Friday by telephone from his Houston office.

Fisher declined to address details about the decision, but acknowledged some differences with the team. He also looked much more relaxed Friday morning than in weeks, calling it the best decision after two difficult seasons.

The Titans rebounded from an 0-6 start to finish 8-8 in 2009, then wasted a 5-2 start in 2010 by losing eight of the final 10 games for a 6-10 record.

"I've been coaching for 24 years, and it's time. I need a break," Fisher said. "And I think timing-wise this is a perfect opportunity to do this so the organization can move forward with their plan, and I'll move forward with whatever happens in the future."

NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora reported Friday that Fisher worked out an agreement with Adams this week, netting the coach $8 million in severance pay. Senior executive vice president Steve Underwood said reports of the coach's settlement at $8 million were "erroneous" while declining to answer questions about the package.

The Titans announced the split Thursday night, shocking players, assistant coaches and the rest of the NFL because Adams announced three weeks ago he had decided to keep Fisher for the final year of his contract. Adams said teams and coaches unfortunately almost always reach a point where change is the best option.

"I believe both the team and Jeff will benefit in the long run from this move," Adams said. "Now I'm still confident about our future. I think we have good players. I believe in Steve Underwood and (general manager) Mike Reinfeldt to find our next head coach."

The search to replace Fisher already is under way. Reinfeldt and Underwood will handle the process, and the only timetable is "as long as it takes."

The Titans held a Friday meeting with all coaches on staff to discuss some issues of the immediate future, league sources told La Canfora.

According to the sources, the staff was informed that the team would move quickly to address the vacancy, with a new coach to be named possibly within the week. Furthermore, the staff was informed that the Titans would honor the new contracts signed by all assistant coaches.

That information would only serve to make offensive line coach Mike Munchak seem like an even stronger candidate to succeed Fisher. League sources have said Munchak is a leading candidate for the job, should he want it (if he takes it, Bruce Matthews would be a top candidate to replace Munchak as offensive line coach). Former longtime Titans coordinator Gregg Williams would be a top outside candidate, and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell could be given consideration as well.

Among the four major U.S. sports, only Jerry Sloan with the NBA's Utah Jazz has been with the same team longer than Fisher had been with the Titans. Andy Reid now takes over as the NFL's longest-tenured coach, having finished up his 12th season with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Fisher, promoted from defensive coordinator to interim coach in 1994, guided the team's relocation from Houston to Tennessee and took the Titans to their lone Super Bowl appearance. He also had losing skids of at least five games in five of the last seven seasons.

Fisher has coached more NFL games for one franchise than all but six Hall of Famers: George Halas, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Curly Lambeau and Bud Grant. Fisher ranks third among active coaches in career wins with a record of 147-126, behind only Bill Belichick (176) and Mike Shanahan (160), and he is 20th in career coaching victories.

Fisher could coach again next season. A team executive noted that's up to Fisher, but the coach wouldn't speculate when asked if he might work on television for a season.

"I think I need the rest," he said. "Those that coach 10 years that take a year off are three times better coaches ... in year 11. I'm going to take time."

Reinfeldt noted Fisher's departure didn't change the Titans' decision to either trade quarterback Vince Young or release him later this offseason. The general manager also noted Fisher just finished his 17th season with this organization and called that unbelievable in a hard job that takes a toll.

"He was the face of the franchise for such a long time," Reinfeldt said. "At the same time, I think change is part of the NFL. You look other places where change has happened, change can be a wonderful thing, and we can use that change to get us to where we want to be."

Fisher eluded to the possibility of a contract extension the day after the season ended, but Adams decided to let his coach work through the final year of his contract. Fisher's last winning record was 13-3 in 2008 when the Titans wasted the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed by losing in the divisional round, and his last postseason victory came in January 2004.

Underwood said Fisher had coached a season in the final year of a contract at least a couple times before.

Neither Fisher nor the Titans would discuss specifics of why the coach had to leave now despite repeated questions.

La Canfora reported that Fisher's departure was hastened by a series of events, none more significant than the team's refusal to hire his son, Brandon, according to league sources.

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Fisher did admit they discussed adding his son to the staff. But Adams doesn't allow nepotism involving employees who are supervisors, which kept Fisher from luring away Gregg Williams from New Orleans to be his defensive coordinator two years ago when he wanted to bring his son along.

Fisher also had other staff issues. La Canfora reported that Fisher was nonplussed by the departure of longtime defensive line coach Jim Washburn to the Eagles and agonized over the decision of whether or not to fire defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, a very close friend, which he ultimately decided to do.

The Titans also lost running backs coach Craig Johnson to Minnesota as the Vikings' new quarterbacks coach.

Underwood dismissed speculation that Fisher's job status kept him from attracting quality assistants to fill those jobs. He said the Titans were ready to offer multiyear deals, and 13 assistants are under contract for 2011 with an offer extended to another to stay.

Fisher will be missed in the locker room. Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin said from Hawaii that the coach's departure stinks.

"I like the way he coaches and handles the players, especially being a veteran player," Babin said. "He doesn't say anything to me. He knows I'm going to take care of business and do what needs to be done and there was a professional understanding there. The new coach could handle things a lot differently."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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