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Players surprised by Fisher's exit at Tennessee

by | Special to

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Players reached Thursday night by were stunned to learn that the only man any of them had known as head coach of the Titans was parting ways with the team he'd spent 16-plus years at the helm of.

"It was definitely unexpected," linebacker Will Witherspoon said of the announcement of Jeff Fisher's ouster. "I had no thought of it, especially after the events of the past few weeks. The bigger question now is who you bring in next and what happens."

The events Witherspoon spoke of include the Titans' Jan. 5 announcement that they would not retain quarterback Vince Young, who had a very public spat with Fisher, and the firing of defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil.

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In the interim, the Titans also lost two coaches to other teams –- defensive line coach Jim Washburn took the same position with the Eagles and running backs coach Craig Johnson left to become the Vikings' quarterbacks coach. Washburn turned down a three-year deal from Tennessee to jump to Philadelphia, where, ironically, he now again works for the NFL's longest-tenured coach. Andy Reid takes over that title with Fisher's ouster.

Titans defensive end Jason Babin, who posted 12.5 sacks this season and made his first Pro Bowl, texted this to from Hawaii after learning the news about Fisher: "It broke my heart when 'Wash[burn]' left, and now they just poured salt on it. I'm going to miss that mullet."

Babin and Witherspoon were both free agents who have been with the Titans for just one year. But each has seen choaching changes before. Babin just finished his seventh year in the league, and Witherspoon is a veteran of nine seasons.

For a rookie, such upheavals are even more unsettling.

"It's really tough as a player, especially as a rookie, to know that the coaches you've grown to trust and the system you spent so much time trying to learn is changing in the blink of an eye," said linebacker Rennie Curran, a third-round pick out of Georgia. "If there is one thing we rookies have learned from our first year in the league is nothing in this business is guaranteed. All we can do is continue to stay optimistic about the future and do what got us here, no matter what the circumstances may be."

The Titans now have the unenviable task of finding a head coach, a defensive coordinator and two position coaches. Every other team that had been looking for a head coach at least has filled that job.

Early speculation for a head coach will turn to coaches already on the staff. Associate head coach/linebackers coach Dave McGinnis has prior head-coaching experience. He led the Cardinals from 2000-03, compiling a mark of 17-40. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame lineman himself, also could get a look. He's regarded as one of the best position coaches in the league.

"You hope they look in-house for the sake of continuity, but you've gotta make the right decision for a head coach, too," Witherspoon said. "Will it be a temporary move or a permanent move?"

Suddenly what had been one of the NFL's most stable franchises looks like a house of cards.

"It's fair to say there's a little disarray and you wonder how it will all come together," Witherspoon said. "Now you have to get a head coach and start filling out the other spots from there."


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