Jeff or Vince? Vince or Jeff?
Tennessee Titans’ players could not avoid the question as they cleaned out their lockers Monday afternoon, the day after they completed the season with a 23-20 loss at Indianapolis.
What they did avoid was giving a direct answer. Players expressed support for both the head coach (Jeff Fisher) and the quarterback (Vince Young) even as they acknowledged that the relationship between the two had an adverse effect on the season.
“Anytime you have a major impact player like that that kind of disappears, it’s kind of rough,” tight end Jared Cook said. “You have to go and get restarted and get the wheels turning again. It’s kind of rough.
“But things are going to happen during the course of the year that you have to fight through. Things are always going to happen.”
What happened between Fisher and Young was a very public straining of a relationship that was not exactly rock solid at the start.
Young stormed out of the locker room following an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins on Nov. 21 because he was upset that he was not allowed to return to play after he sustained a thumb injury in the second half.
That prompted Fisher to declare that the 2006 first-round draft pick had forfeited his role as the starter. A day later, the coach conducted a team meeting without Young, who later that week underwent season-ending surgery and was placed on injured reserve.
“It’s unique, I guess,” linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “At the same time, it’s a situation I think will work itself out. Nobody has to be involved with it. It’s nothing that can really be controlled by the rest of us around per se. It’s just a situation that’s going to have to be rectified.
“… I think it can happen. It just comes down to how the decisions are being made and understanding on both sides.”
If a choice is to be made, it will fall to owner Bud Adams, who has been a steadfast supporter of both.
Adams has retained Fisher as his coach significantly longer than any other in franchise history. In fact, Fisher has more victories than the five men who preceded him combined.
The owner, who lives and maintains his primary business in Houston (Young’s hometown), advocated the selection of Young in the 2006 draft and twice in four seasons called for him to be made the starter.
“All I know is that there was [a] rift, and the depth of it is between [Fisher] and [Young],” tight end Bo Scaife said. “That’s something you’re going to have to ask them.
“…Maybe we just didn’t handle it as well as we should have.”
Both the player and the coach have one year remaining on their current contracts.
Although the Titans have had just two winning seasons in the last seven (they went 6-10 this season) and have not won a playoff game since 2003, the players remained pointed in their support of the coach.
“Fisher is a great coach,” Witherspoon said. “I think everybody in this room respects him and wants him to be back here. Guys really look at it at the way he runs the show. That’s one of the things you definitely have to respect about him — he definitely knows how to manage the guys on a team and say, ‘Hey, this is who we are guys. This is what’s happening.’”
Added Scaife: “On the football side, you probably aren’t going to have a better coach in the league than Coach Fisher. Everyone around the league always talks about how much they miss playing for him and stuff like that. He’s loved all across the league by current and former players.”
Similar sentiments were shared for Young, who is 30-17 as a starting quarterback and who had his best passing numbers this season before he was hurt.
“I hope Vince comes back,” Cook said. “I think a lot of us have a lot of good chemistry with him. But you never know. They might bring in someone new.”
The general feeling among the fan base is that one of them has to go, although Adams is on record with his belief that they will have to settle their differences and work together again.
“I would like to see both of them back here,” running back Chris Johnson said. “It’s kind of strange, but that’s a situation I can’t be sitting around worrying about. … Wherever the ball falls, we’ll deal with it at that time.”
Scaife did offer one potential solution.
“The only cure for everything is winning,” he said. “If this time next year the Titans are in the Super Bowl and [Young] is the quarterback, then he won’t have to think about all this other stuff.”