|Keep him away from personnel and Jeff Fisher is a great choice to rehab your team. (Getty Images)|
It was the aftermath of Super Bowl XXXIV. The Tennessee Titans had fallen -- literally -- a foot short of potentially tying the score with no time on the clock. Receiver Kevin Dyson stretched toward the end zone but failed to get in. It would become one of the more startling moments in Super Bowl history.
After the game, inside the Tennessee locker room, I was struck by something that was impossible to miss. Many of the Titans players interviewed talked about the anguish of coming so close but, perhaps even more than that, they spoke of the disappointment of not winning for coach Jeff Fisher.
I heard that repeatedly. I heard it so much, I thought it was some sort of joke. But it wasn't. Players had just lost the Super Bowl but were almost cult-like in declaring they had let Fisher down.
Years would pass after that near-miss, and Fisher would go on to earn a reputation as one of the best defensive minds in football, a player's coach who created chicken soup from chicken s---. That was the reputation, true or not. The Titans won in spite of a roster that was considered -- for the most part -- lacking spectacular players top to bottom, outside of Eddie George, Jevon Kearse and Steve McNair.
Then the slide came. By 2009, the Titans had become tangled in a six-game losing streak, and during it, they were atomized by the New England Patriots 59-0. The Titans would recover, but the damage was done. Fisher had lost the team that once cherished him.
Fast forward to now. The big-name coach most in demand during what has become a turbulent offseason is indeed Fisher, the same man who departed Tennessee after 16 seasons as the franchise's head coach.
And this is the question: Which Fisher will the NFL get? Will it be the Fisher who earned the deep trust of his players? Or will it be the Fisher who feuded with quarterback Vince Young and watched both his influence in his locker room and in the NFL diminish?
Perhaps an even bigger query is this: Is Fisher worth the hype?
The answer, in speaking to a handful of high-ranking team executives, is a resounding yes.
I expected some of the normal pettiness and jealousy you see in football whenever a coach receives a great deal of attention. That didn't happen. Several executives said Fisher's return makes him automatically one of the top five coaches in football, and another believes he would be among the top three.
It was a slobberfest.
"The only negative with Jeff is: Keep him away from draft decisions," one executive said. "Just as a coach, few are better."
"There are weaknesses, but not many," said another official who knows Fisher. "He's got a huge ego, but that's a lot of coaches."
The feeling is Fisher can accomplish now what he did in the early days with the Titans. He can take a struggling franchise and quickly make it professional.
The two main issues with Fisher, team officials say: Again, don't let him have control over personnel; and his intensity can be radioactive. The same intensity that can quickly turn a team around can just as rapidly cause Fisher burnout.
That's the general feeling of Fisher's tenure with Tennessee -- he stayed way too long.
But that was the past. Fisher has the advantage of a fresh start and only a short lapse away from the sport. He's not Joe Gibbs returning to Washington after a lengthy layoff. The same techniques to motivate players and push a team into a better orbit that worked for Fisher will likely work now.
"He might end up in my division," one scout said, "and that makes me a little nervous."
It probably should.