As an NFL coach, Jeff Fisher is a winner. And a survivor. And a bit of an enigma. But what he won’t be is the winning coach when the Titans hoist a Super Bowl trophy — at least that what the numbers tell us.
While Fisher has just completed his 16th year at the helm of Tennessee’s ship, what he, owner Bud Adams, and Titans fans should be aware of is that only one NFL coach has won a Super Bowl after 16 years with one team. That was Tom Landry, the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach, who over a 28-year tenure captured NFL’s top prize in his 11th and 17th seasons.
And in examining the records of NFL coaches who have put in 10 years or more with one team, only one other has won a Super Bowl after his 11th season — Bill Cowher in his 14th and final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, looking at 20 Super Bowl-winning coaches with at least a decade at the helm shows that most took home the prize within the first six years on the job.
It really feels like the play called against the Rams in the Titans’ only Super Bowl appearance was destined to get Kevin Dyson into the end zone, not a yard short. The “numbers script” says it was Fisher’s time — it was his sixth season with the franchise.
So now, the numbers say Fisher can’t go that extra yard unless he can match the great Landry, which I don’t believe he or any other coach in this situation can do. Landry hovers near the top of EA Sports’ recent list of the 25 Greatest NFL Coaches where it should be. Fisher’s name is absent.
For all the debating about his place among NFL coaches, longevity aside, Fisher’s resume is spotty and quite front-loaded. He won an AFC Championship and five playoff games in his first nine seasons, which was impressive considering the move from Houston to Nashville via Memphis, but he has won no postseason games in his last six seasons. And as the master of the 8-8 season, he has compiled just 7 winning seasons as a head coach.
You might say this past season’s 0-6 start and 8-2 finish mirrors the schizophrenic career of the head coach — only in reverse. But it got Fisher a contract extension, when walking papers might have been in order. He undoubtedly is this highest-profile sports figure in Nashville and he has never wavered in his commitment to the team, the owner, the players and the city, which makes talk of his dismissal difficult and controversial.
But like I mentioned earlier, just look at the numbers.
Start with New England’s Bill Belichick, who won Super Bowls in his 2nd, 4th and 5th seasons with the Patriots; nothing in his last five. Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls in his storied 23-year stint with the Steelers (in seasons 6, 7, 10 and 11), but had only two playoff wins in his last 12 seasons.
The illustrious Don Shula won the top prize in his third and fourth seasons with the Miami Dolphins, then went 22 years without another one. Kansas City Chiefs’ Hank Stram won a Super Bowl in his 7th season there, but made just one playoff appearance in his last seven. Joe Gibbs won three with the Redskins (seasons 2, 7 and 11) and shot blanks over his last five seasons.
Mike Ditka led the Chicago Bears to the title in his fourth year, then went seven without. Oakland’s John Madden won in his eighth year; Giants’ Tom Coughlin in his fourth.
Some coaches with more than 10 years of experience but with more than one team still won early. Mike Holmgren’s Packers were Super in his seventh season, but he came up empty for 13 years [10 in Seattle]. Dick Vermeil’s Rams took the trophy away from the Titans in his third year with St. Louis; his 10th overall. George Seifert won two Super Bowls with the 49ers [seasons 1, 6] before struggling in Carolina.
The most efficient was Bill Walsh, who won three Super Bowls in 10 years with the 49ers and walked away.
For Fisher, the one glimmer of light beaming off the Super Bowl trophy comes via Dan Reeves, who while he didn’t win a Super Bowl with Denver or Atlanta, did get to his last one after coaching for 18 years.
But it seems the NFL’s grand prize is going to younger and younger coaches. Just look at the coaches who graced the sidelines last year, and will be pacing there this Sunday — Jim Caldwell [in his first year with the Colts], Mike Tomlin [won last year in just his second season with Pittsburgh], Ken Whisenhunt [third with Cardinals] and the “veteran” Sean Payton in his fourth year with New Orleans.
So as the months peel off the Titans calendars, fans remain optimistic that a Super Bowl trophy will one day find its way to Nashville. It’s just that the odds of Fisher bringing it here aren’t very good.