Long road: Fisher still getting things done with Titans

Jeff Fisher appreciates how rare it is to be in his 13th full season as coach of the same NFL franchise, the Tennessee Titans.

Given that 18 of the league's 32 coaches are in their first, second or third year, Fisher is quick to acknowledge how fortunate he is to work for an owner, Bud Adams, who values continuity.

"That's first and foremost," Fisher said.

What's more is Adams' awareness of the many twists and turns that a football team can encounter. In the age of the salary cap and free-agent movement, he firmly grasps the concept that not every season will be smooth and that there are setbacks often beyond the coach's control.

"He understands the game and he understands that there's going to be an off year or two for whatever reason," Fisher said. "He understands injuries. He's been patient."

Fisher has rewarded that patience by delivering a team that, despite losing several key starters in the offseason, has posted a 6-2 record. Only four teams (New England, 9-0; Indianapolis, 7-1; Dallas, 7-1; and Green Bay, 7-1) are off to better starts. Since opening the 2006 season 0-5, Tennessee has won 14 of 19 regular-season games and has a three-game winning streak entering a Week 10 AFC South showdown against Jacksonville (5-3) at LP Field in Nashville.

And Adams rewarded Fisher earlier this season with a contract extension, reportedly worth about $6.5 million per year, through 2011. Fisher, a native of Southern California, couldn't feel more at home in the Music City with his wife, Juli, their sons, Brandon and Trent, and their daughter, Tara.

"Nashville is a great place to live, and it's a great fan base," Fisher said. "I've had three kids that will have attended the same elementary school, middle school, and graduate from the same high school. I guess in this age, in all professional sports, that's saying something.

"I'm very, very fortunate."

The Titans qualify as one of the bigger surprises of 2007. Their defense seemingly suffered a major blow with the season-long suspension of cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for repeated violations of the NFL's player-conduct policy. Yet the Titans rank second in the league in fewest yards allowed and are No. 1 against the run, thanks largely to the dominance of tackle Albert Haynesworth. Their running game presumably took a big hit with the free-agent departure of Travis Henry. Yet the Titans have the league's third-best rushing attack. Second-year man LenDale White has run for 100 yards in each of his last three games, which has gone a long way toward helping to overcome the struggles of second-year quarterback Vince Young and keep the defense fresh late in games.

The anticipation of challenges and success never gets old for Fisher, even if he has been in the same place for so long.

"It's like every year is my first year," he said. "I take the same approach. I really look forward to coming to work. And this team that we put together last year that's carried over to this year has just a great personality. (The players) enjoy coming to work, too, and it makes it fun, win or lose.

"It's a very simple process. There's nothing fancy about it. We've got a really good locker room, a great bunch of guys that trust each other and like to work together. They spend the extra time, and they're emotional, and they play hard.

"If you let one slip away, like we did a few weeks ago (in a 13-10 loss at Tampa Bay), they're upset because that happened. And then the next week we win by two (38-36 over Houston), they're upset because we didn't play well and win. They have a very high expectation. They don't talk about playoffs. We're not there yet. But they expect to have a chance. They expect to win each and every game."

That attitude first showed itself in '06, when the Titans fielded the NFL's youngest roster. After the 0-5 start, they won eight of their final 11 games, including a six-game winning streak that began in late November and nearly landed them a playoff berth.

"Last year was one of the most rewarding years I've had coaching since joining this organization," said Fisher, who has 116 career victories in the NFL. "To watch a team stumble and fall to 0-5, and then come out of it the way they did -- they didn't bat an eye. They just played. They had fun. They stayed focused. It was all about winning one game.

"The second half of the season last year, for us, was momentum that carried us with enthusiasm right through the offseason."

It all goes back to continuity, which creates stability. Only three head coaches -- Seattle's Mike Holmgren, Washington's Joe Gibbs, and Denver's Mike Shanahan -- have been on the job longer than Fisher. Holmgren is in his 16th season, but spent his first seven in Green Bay. Gibbs also is in his 16th season, all with the Redskins, but he left coaching for 12 years before returning in 2004. Shanahan is in his 14th season, spending a year with Oakland before joining the Broncos.

But Fisher has the NFL's most consecutive seasons with the same club, having served as interim coach of the Houston Oilers for six games in 1994 before taking over full-time in 1995. He guided the Oilers through a difficult move from Houston to Tennessee, during which they played in three different stadiums -- in 1996 (Houston Astrodome), 1997 (the Liberty Bowl in Memphis) and 1998 (Vanderbilt's Dudley Field in Nashville) -- before settling in at their current home as the Titans in 1999. That year, Fisher did the improbable by leading the team on a storybook postseason run that fell just short of victory against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.

What helped him the most through the franchise's vagabond existence was keeping his focus on the players -- in the meeting room, on the practice field, on the playing field.

"You can literally get done anything and everything you need to with them, regardless of the distraction," Fisher said. "We learned, when we didn't have a home, that it didn't matter where you played. The important thing was to win.

"And then, of course, there were a couple of years where we had to readjust our salary cap and lean on the draft. We've been fortunate that, through the draft and free agency, we've put some players in position now that are going to be key players for us for a long time."

The Titans are equally fortunate that they can say the same about their coach.

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