In a surprising move, the Tennessee Titans have parted ways with Jeff Fisher, who just completed his 16th full season as the NFL's longest-tenured coach.
The Titans announced the move within an hour of a report by SI.com that they were negotiating Fisher's departure and released a statement later Thursday.
"We will be forever appreciative of Jeff Fisher's leadership and accomplishments through his time with our franchise," the statement began. "We reached some of our greatest heights and experienced some unforgettable moments during his tenure. After the season was complete, we had numerous discussions on the direction of the team and were pleased that we were moving forward with Jeff at the helm.
"Since that time, it became evident that consensus was increasingly hard to find and reality wasn't matching the vision we discussed. It is unfortunate that this decision is coming at this juncture, but we believe that we have reached the point where change is in the best interest of both parties. We will start the head coaching search tomorrow. We expect to talk to a broad and diverse group of candidates. We are confident the coaching pool still has a number of quality candidates that can lead our football team."
The Tennessean reported that Fisher, who had the authority to make coaching staff moves, waited until this week to tell management he had signed about a dozen of his assistants to one-year contract extensions in mid-December. Among them was defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil -- who was subsequently fired last Thursday. The Tennesseanreported that Cecil will be paid what he's due in his contract.
The coaching flurry continued when defensive line coach Jim Washburn decided to take the same job with Philadelphia. On the same day Cecil was fired, running backs coach Craig Johnson signed with Minnesota as the Vikings quarterbacks coach.
Fisher, in speaking to the Tennessean, denied an ESPN report that his lobbying to have his son, Brandon, hired as quality control coach was "the last straw."
That series of events led to a string of meetings, at which point the decision was made to part ways, the Tennessean reported.
The team will hold a news conference at Baptist Sports Park at 11:00 a.m. CST Friday.
"I want to thank Mr. Adams and the organization for a special 17 years," Fisher said in a statement. "I can't thank the fans enough for the support they showed us through the years; it has been a tremendous experience. We all did our very best and I think I can look back with fond memories and be very proud of what we accomplished.
"I want to wish the organization, the current players and the fans nothing but the best in the future."
Though Fisher, 52, had been derided locally as "Coach .500" or "Coacho Ocho," he seemingly had just survived a battle with quarterback Vince Young. Adams decided to either release Young or trade him on Jan. 5. The owner announced two days later that he would be keeping Fisher.
Fisher and Young never really jelled in five seasons together after the Titans drafted the former Texas standout with the third overall pick in 2006 under orders from Adams. The relationship frayed even as Fisher publicly defended Young until Nov. 21, when the situation exploded.
Young tossed his shoulder pads and other equipment into the stands and later had a locker room confrontation with Fisher after an overtime loss in which the quarterback suffered a season-ending injury.
And Johnson, like most everyone else, was caught off guard by Thursday's news. "It was a situation where I thought it was going to be one or the other -- Vince Young or coach Fisher -- with at the end of the day both being out the door," Johnson told NFL Network. "So it's a crazy situation, something I really didn't expect to happen."
Even though Adams announced he was sticking with Fisher for the final year of his contract, the move meant Fisher would be coaching for his future in 2011. Fisher had repeatedly said he wanted to finish his career with the franchise, but the coach known for never losing his cool in public while hiding behind his sunglasses might have decided Adams' decision wasn't good enough.
Fisher did not answer a message left on his cell, and his agent also did not respond to messages from the Associated Press.
More details could come out Friday when the team is expected to hold a news conference to discuss the first coaching change since the franchise relocated to Tennessee from Houston in 1997. One of the leading candidates to replace Fisher is Mike Munchak, the Titans offensive line coach. The Hall of Famer is a favorite of Adams.
Williams and Munchak are close and some executives suggested a pairing of the two, perhaps, with Munchak as offensive coordinator, La Canfora reports. Regardless, La Canfora notes, it's unlikely the Titans break the bank on a replacement for Fisher, particularly given the CBA uncertainty, and are expected to focus on experienced NFL coordinators/assistants.
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. He 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 all-time in coaching victories.
Adams promoted Fisher from defensive coordinator to interim coach with six games left in the 1994 season after firing Jack Pardee. Adams removed the interim tag after that season and has stayed with Fisher longer than any other coach with the franchise the billionaire founded.
Fisher oversaw the team's relocation from Houston in which the Oilers played in four different stadiums between 1996 and 1999 before moving into their current home.
Since 1999, Tennessee ranks seventh in the NFL in winning percentage with a 110-82 record. The Titans also are tied for fourth with six playoff seasons since 1999, though a second straight miss this past season will drop the team down that list.
But Fisher is just 5-6 in the postseason and hadn't won a playoff game since beating Baltimore in a wild-card matchup in January 2004. Tennessee lost a wild-card game in San Diego in 2007 and wasted the AFC's top seed in 2008 with a loss to Baltimore.
He also had losing skids of at least five games in five of the last seven seasons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.