The split scenes of Titans quarterback Vince Young bolting LP Field after Sunday's overtime loss to Washington in a collected temper and coach Jeff Fisher, moments later, candidly condemning Young's role as his team's starting quarterback, was as emotionally riveting as anything I've been around in more than 20 years of covering sports.
The lines were drawn by each and things seemed headed for a standoff, with one being a loser.
Young drew the immediate backlash, as he should have, for putting himself above a team that has fallen back to average and is filled with players who have supported him through emotional highs and lows, injuries and inconsistent play. Fisher is also at fault to some degree for how he handled Young on Sunday. The brunt of Young's ire Sunday came after Fisher refused to put him back in after the QB hurt his thumb against the Redskins.
Fisher said he didn't like the way Young was throwing the ball and that Young never came up to him, offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger or quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains to plead his case to get back in the game. Remember, Fisher got spoiled with Steve McNair, who pretty much had to be straight-jacketed to get him off the field. However, it doesn't appear that Fisher or one of his assistants went to Young to see if he could play.
"The decision was based on the thumb and the injury, not on whether (Young) wanted to (play) or didn't want to or said he did or what," Fisher said. "It's very cut and dry."
Fisher repeatedly sent out rookie Rusty Smith, while Young was on the sideline throwing, taking snaps and behaving very much like a guy who wanted to -- and expected to -- go back into the game. I'm pretty sure with the outcome on the line, Colts coach Jim Caldwell would have checked on Peyton Manning or Texans coach Gary Kubiak would have been all over Matt Schaub to gauge his health and willingness to play.
You could sense Young's frustration and anger as the game wore on and, based on his history and the way he egged on a booing crowd earlier in the game, the potential for a negative reaction. His postgame behavior wasn't professional, but as bad as it was, he might have saved himself worse harm by avoiding the media and saying or doing something he'd regret a lot more than he does for dipping out on his team.
I'm not offering any excuses for Young, because I can't imagine any other quarterback in the NFL doing something like that. He needs to grow up.
Things have gotten more interesting, though. Owner Bud Adams told Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean -- an exceptional beat writer by the way -- that Fisher and Young, both under contract through 2011, have to make it work. By that, I take it Adams told Fisher once again that Young will be the starting quarterback when he's healthy because if he's not, Young isn't going to be happy and we'll be re-visiting this drama.
If Adams were a marriage counselor, it's like telling a couple that'd be better off apart to stay together for the kids -- except Adams is paying both of them handsomely, so he does have the final say.
"My hope is that I finish my career here," Fisher said when asked about his future with the organization.
Fisher can't walk because he wouldn't get paid and the Titans would have his rights through 2011. Young could ask to be traded or released, but Adams doesn't sound like he's in the mood to hear that because he's smitten with Young, who has dazzled at times and who did seemingly save Fisher's job last season by going 8-2 over the final 10 games after an 0-6 start under Kerry Collins.
Young's insertion was mandated by Adams, just like his peace order.
Whether Fisher and Young can work it out shouldn't be a major hurdle. Young has to commit to doing what is necessary to be good or once his contract is up in 2011, he'll become the next David Carr or Matt Leinart. Fisher has to coach him up even more.
"All I've done here since Vince walked in the door is try to help him to be the best player he could be," Fisher said. "I've stood behind him and defended him from the get go so there's no frustration."
Both, as safety Michael Griffin said, have to put their egos aside for the greater good of the team.
The greater good of the team is what intrigues me. I've spent a good amount of time with the Titans the past few years and I can't sit here and say I've gotten the vibe that the players are sold on Young. Following his actions after the loss to Washington, it's really hard to tell where Young stands among his teammates. He clearly has confidants and friends, but as guys who have to count on him helping them earn a living, I'm not quite sure their faith is any stronger than Fisher's.
That said, I've got a feeling they're a little more comfortable with Young moving forward than with Collins or Smith.
Time to dump Young?
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As for Fisher, he is respected. Even if players feel he might have an unfair beef with Young, his judgment is rarely questioned. He treats players well, doesn't grind them physically and doesn't expose them to a lot of criticism -- well, except for Young.
When the subject of whether Young would ever play for him again, Fisher said, "We'll deal with that when the season is over."
And for what the Titans did to their team, players really don't have much of a choice other than to cast their lot with Young or Fisher.
There is not an abundance of veteran leadership on the team. That walked out the door this offseason when Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Kevin Mawae were not brought back.
When Young left the stadium Sunday and Griffin followed him to the parking lot to talk to him -- don't buy into the denials, I witnessed it -- Griffin couldn't get Young to collect himself, re-think his action and come back. I wonder if Young would have responded to Bulluck or Vanden Bosch that way. Then again, I'm not so sure they would have tried to corral him.
In the short term, I figure things will publicly begin to smooth over with Young needing surgery to repair the flexor tendon in his right thumb and heading to injured reserve. With a brutal schedule, the Titans' playoff hopes might steadily fade -- unless Smith can rally and a defense that's slipped badly can regain traction.
Keeping Young and Fisher apart for awhile and letting the players focus on something besides those two could be best. Young can get healthy and seriously re-evaluate himself and improve instead of just talking about it. He's made strides on the field but his maturation has to be more than talk. Fisher, meanwhile, can't get too caught up in this. He's navigated through a lot of turmoil in his career and if he can get Young to where he needs to be, he might finally win a championship.