Patience (for coaches) is a virtue

23 12 2009

Year after year, coaches from all corners of the sports world are fired well before their time is due. Impatience reigns down from all areas — ownership, fans, management, players, media.

However, for every few justifications for a coach getting the axe, there always seems to be one example of why it can pay off to stick with a coach through thick and thin. Jeff Fisher, for probably the fourth or fifth time in his career, is that latest example.

The Tennessee Titans opened the 2009 season with six straight losses, culminating with a 59-0 rout at the hands of the New England Patriots. Lo and behold, the Titans are 7-1 since then to put themselves into the AFC Wild Card race.

Fisher has had an interesting career with the Titans, who were formerly the Houston Oilers until they moved to Tennessee before the 1997 campaign. He went through four mediocre seasons in his first four full years as a coach before turning in two 13-win campaigns and a Super Bowl appearance. Then Tennessee had a 7-win year before reeling off two more double-digit win seasons.

Those were followed by three more subpar to mediocre years in which they won 17 games before another two-year run of double-digit wins. Then came this year, when fans were calling for Fisher’s head on a stick as Tennessee looked utterly lost at 0-6.

A 7-7 record never felt so good, and Tennessee’s only loss during their past eight games came against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts. Devil’s advocates could make the point that players begin to tune out coaches after a certain amount of time. Good thing for NFL coaches that most rosters experience vast turnovers within just two or three years. If there’s ever a sport — and a league — that warrants keeping one coach for a long stretch of time, it’s football — and the NFL.

Fisher has created a “never say die” attitude in Tennessee, and his teams usually seem to play sound defense while effectively running the football. His message stays the same, even if the players change. Think of him as the David Wooderson of NFL coaches. (That’s Matthew McConaughey’s character from Dazed and Confused.)

Look at other examples of teams who benefited from staying with their man in charge:

The Boston Celtics kept Doc Rivers around after 33 and 24 wins over two seasons from 2005-07, including an epic 17-game losing streak in the spring of  ’07. That following summer, Boston traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and won the NBA title with Doc developing a special team kinship around the African-influenced concept of Ubuntu, some sort of philosophy that inspires togetherness. Whatever it was, it worked for the Celts that year.

Mack Brown had won 70 games, including four bowls, in his first seven seasons at Texas from 1998-2004. Yet he couldn’t shake the tag as the coach who couldn’t win the big game. Many other colleges might have axed Brown after his sixth or seventh year for the mistaken belief that he wasn’t a championship-caliber coach. Yet in his eighth season, he led Texas to an undefeated year, capped by their upset victory against Southern Cal in the national title game.

Finally, we have Bill Cowher as an extreme example of a team holding onto its guy through peaks and valleys. He enjoyed eight double-digit win seasons and 10 winning campaigns overall after 13 years as the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. Of course, he had gone just 1-4 in the AFC Championship Game and lost his lone Super Bowl appearance. .

Some Steelers fans might have wondered why they couldn’t get a coach who was a true winner. And, of course, Cowher broke through to win that Super Bowl in 2005, certifying himself as a Steelers legend and giving justice to the mindset that success is worth the wait.

No matter how many times Titans fans might have been frustrated by the team’s play over the years, they should be comforted by the notion that Fisher is able to steer a ship no matter how topsy-turvy it might seem. Therefore, some coaches deserve much longer leashes than others.

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23 12 2009
Page Seven

Cowher would get heat from us Pittsburgh fans, but it never got ridiculous. There was some fear that he might not be able to get us the ring, but once he did, he pretty much became a saint to all of us. I even proposed having him as my best man at my wedding to Ari, but she (somehow) didn’t like that idea.

Also – Reid is basically a mirror image of Cowher. So you know, watch out for those Eagles this post season.

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