Wiedmer: Is Fisher on path of Shanahan?

Wiedmer: Is Fisher on path of Shanahan?

October 20th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

Fifty-nine to zero.

If Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams fires coach Jeff Fisher at the end of the season, the above score from Sunday's embarrassment at New England will be widely assumed to have been Fisher's Waterloo.

And it is tough to defend Fisher returning for a 16th season after the worst loss in the franchise's 50-year history dropped the Titans to 0-6 heading into their off week.

It also doesn't help the coach's odds that the owner told the (Nashville) Tennessean late Sunday: "That is one of our problems, the coaching staff."

But what may doom Coach Cool the most is what's happening 1,022 miles away in Denver.

Much as Fisher has long appeared to have the closest thing to tenure after guiding the 1999 Titans to within a yard of winning the Super Bowl, Mike Shanahan seemed similarly bulletproof with Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.

After all, Shanahan hadn't just coached for his sport's biggest prize, he'd won back-to-back Super Bowls at the close of the 1997 and 1998 seasons with at least a little help from Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.

He'd also gone 138-83 heading into last year, a good deal stronger than Fisher's 128-102 mark heading into this season.

But the Broncos lost three straight games at the close of last season to erase a three-game lead with three to play against the San Diego Chargers. Worse yet, the Chargers crushed Denver 52-21 to win the AFC West.

It was the first time since division play began in 1967 that an NFL team had suffered such a collapse at season's end. A few days later, Bowlen shockingly canned Shanahan at the close of an 8-8 season.

Yet it's how the Broncos are responding to new coach Josh McDaniels that should most cause Coach Cool to break into a cold sweat.

Heading into Monday night's game against the Chargers, Denver was a stunning 5-0.

If Bowlen could part company with Shanahan and see a (so far) instant reversal of fortune, Adams might understandably be inclined to travel that same path.

Beyond that, Shanahan went 10-6 in 2004 and 13-3 in 2005, exactly as Fisher went 10-6 in 2007 and 13-3 last year. Shanahan's final three seasons were 9-7, 7-9 and 8-8. So if Adams is reading tea leaves, Fisher must hope against hope that they don't point his owner to review Denver's recent history.

But the Broncos aside, who could blame Adams for firing Fisher? The Titans aren't getting better; they're getting worse. After a 13-10 overtime loss at defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh to open the season, the Titans defense -- long the franchise's strength -- has surrendered 34, 24, 37, 31 and 59 points.

It's one thing to have Peyton Manning pick you apart. But the Titans also have been shredded by Jacksonville's David Garrard and Jets rookie Mark Sanchez, who threw five interceptions Sunday against woeful Buffalo.

Moreover, this swoon didn't necessarily begin this season. After starting 10-0 last season, the Titans have lost 10 of their last 13. Fisher also has lost his last three playoff games.

Given all that, the only thing more surprising than Adams standing by his coach at the moment may be that as of noon Monday no search of the Web could find a www.firefisher.com site.

Not that it's all Fisher's fault. First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil hasn't yet appeared a capable replacement for Jim Schwartz, who took the Detroit head job. Adams also should take some of the blame for his apparent insistence on using the No. 3 pick in the 2006 NFL draft on quarterback Vince Young.

The 36-year-old Collins may be near the end of a roller-coaster career, but he's only out there as a starter because Young has been such a disappointment.

Yet there was Adams on Sunday night saying of the fourth-year bust, "I have been wanting (Fisher) to play Vince Young more because Collins has been having his problems out there. I just think we need to find out how well he can do."

Given his own job insecurity, Fisher is all but certain to grant the 86-year-old Adams that wish. And Young did guide the Titans from an 0-5 start on 2006 to 8-8, which still remains the highlight of his career.

Perhaps because of that, Adams even said Sunday, "Who knows? We might come back and win 10 games."

And they might. But a quote from former Broncos linebacker Bill "'Roid Rage" Romanowski when Shanahan was fired may best sum up Fisher's future.

Said Romanowski: "Players start to get tired of the same routine, the same kind of play calling. A new fresh coat of paint sometimes does a whole lot of good."

Especially if it's needed to mask the Titans becoming the first team in NFL history to go from 10-0 one season to 0-10 the next. Or worse.