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Fisher not shaken by chatter, departures

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As a former Chicago Bears safety and the NFL's longest-tenured current head coach, Jeff Fisher has seen his share of struggles between insanely motivated physical specimens. What he witnessed from the deck of a fishing boat off the coast of Guatemala last week, however, put anything he has seen on the football field to shame.

Fifty miles offshore in resplendent Pacific Ocean waters, the Tennessee Titans coach and his sons, Brandon and Trent, were on the prowl for blue marlin when Brandon felt a sudden jolt on his reel. More than a half-hour later, the senior linebacker at the University of Montana was still trying to subdue his prey when the marlin, an estimated 650-pound monster, emerged atop the ocean's surface and made a furious lunge for the watercraft.

Imagine a pair of Albert Haynesworths in one being, desperately fighting for its life, and think how horrifying that would be to confront.

"I was videotaping the whole thing," Fisher recalled Thursday afternoon, "and all of a sudden this sucker is up out of the water, tail-walking and coming right at us. It jumped and hit the side of the boat, and then it made two more jumps toward us before diving straight down. Two more feet and that thing would've jumped into the boat and killed everybody. We all looked at each other like, 'Wow, did that just happen?' "

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Young is getting antsy as a bystander.
(Brian Spurlock/US Presswire)

The struggle continued for another 45 minutes before the marlin finally succumbed, a victory Fisher will always relish. Now that he has once again turned his attention to land-dwelling titans, you can see why the coach isn't overly fazed by the latest pseudodrama of the NFL offseason: recent comments by his deposed franchise quarterback, Vince Young(notes), to Nashville's WMAR-TV that "if them guys don't want me to be in there, it's time for me to make a career change for myself. … If they're not ready for me to play ball, then somebody is."

Reiterating that veteran Kerry Collins(notes) remains his team's unquestioned starter, Fisher said Thursday: "It's not an issue. I've never been involved in a quarterback controversy, and I still won't be. Kerry is our starter, and Vince is working hard to learn and improve, and I have faith that he will become our starter in time."

Nor did Fisher react emotionally when I told him that standout Titans outside linebacker Keith Bulluck(notes) believes that the team, coming off a 13-3 regular season, is in a situation similar to the one they experienced in 2003 – when they made a fourth postseason trip in five years before enduring a frustrating three-year rebuilding period.

"It's a lot like ['03]," Bulluck, a longtime locker-room leader entering the final year of his contract, insisted recently. "We've got one year to get it done, and after that it could all blow up. To me it looks that way because we have a lot of people that will be up for free agency, and we haven't made a lot of moves to keep the team together. They've made moves to help the team for the future by bringing in some young guys, but as far as the next few years, it seems to me that this is the best chance."

Responded Fisher: "That's a little pessimistic. I don't mind Keith taking them one year at a time, but I really don't see it that way. We've got our offensive line locked up [contractually], and we've got depth on the defensive line and young safeties and a lot of players on the rise. We've got a boatload of good running backs, and I like the way we're set up at quarterback."

As good as the Titans were in '08 – winning their first 10 games and locking up home-field advantage in the AFC with a resounding victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers in late December – the focus in '09 has been squarely on what Tennessee couldn't do. The Titans still haven't won a playoff game since '03 (this time losing at home to the Baltimore Ravens, 13-10, in a physical divisional-round showdown) and did not retain the services of Haynesworth, the NFL's most dominant defensive tackle, who signed a lucrative deal (including a then-NFL-record $41 million in guaranteed money) with the Washington Redskins hours after the start of the free-agent period.

The NFL is reportedly looking into the possibility that the Redskins jumped the gun in negotiations. One piece of potential evidence, according to a source, is a journalist's blog post from before the start of free agency quoting a text message from Haynesworth which suggested the Redskins, Titans and at least one other team were the highest bidders for his services.

Fisher declined to comment on the tampering allegations, saying only that the Titans made a serious attempt to retain Haynesworth. He believes the team's defensive-line depth, displayed during that victory over the Steelers (which Haynesworth missed with a knee injury) and bolstered by the selection of former Auburn defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks(notes) in April's NFL draft, will help mitigate the loss.

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Haynesworth spent his first seven seasons with the Titans.
(Brett Davis/US Presswire)

Similarly, Fisher is optimistic that another high-profile departure – the Detroit Lions' hiring of ex-Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz as head coach – won't have an adverse impact. Though former Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was available (he eventually was hired by the New Orleans Saints in that capacity), Fisher chose instead to promote defensive-backs coach Chuck Cecil, partly because he cherished continuity.

In Collins, who performed well after taking over for the injured Young in the first regular-season game of '08, Fisher has the stability and efficiency he craves on offense. Collins received a reported two-year, $15-million deal, and the coach believes that the additions of first-round pick Kenny Britt(notes) and free-agent signee Nate Washington(notes) – the Steelers' former No. 3 wideout – have upgraded the receiving corps. With second-year speedster Chris Johnson seemingly headed for stardom and his fellow halfback, LenDale White(notes), in the best offseason shape of his career, the Titans should once again have a potent rushing attack.

There may be another wrinkle for opposing defenses to contend with in '09: Last year, as the Wildcat offense gained popularity, Fisher toyed with the idea of inserting Young into the lineup on selected occasions to operate out of the scheme. He ultimately chose not to, fearing that it might be construed as a challenge to Collins' unquestioned status as a starter.

Now that Collins has the newfound security of an upgraded contract, Fisher is far more amenable to using his backup in that capacity. With his speed, strength and uncanny running instincts, Young would appear to be a natural for the Wildcat.

"We have done some of it [in practice]," Fisher said. "There's always that possibility."

The Titans open the preseason against the Buffalo Bills in the Aug. 9 Hall of Fame Game, the first of five exhibitions in '09. So Fisher is likely to give Young extended playing time over the summer – and perhaps most or all of an entire preseason game at quarterback – in an effort to chart the '06 NFL offensive rookie of the year's development.

In the meantime, Fisher is enjoying what he says is the best offseason the Titans have ever had – and cherishing the time he's getting to spend with his children before the madness begins anew.

As for the close call in Guatemala, like any good coach, Fisher can't wait to see the film.

"I gave that tape to our video guys," he said, "and I'm hoping to get it up on YouTube."

Something tells me that when the weather turns cold and Fisher feels his team needs a little emotional prodding, the marlin will be making a dramatic appearance in a Titans team meeting.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

Brady Quinn> will win the Cleveland Browns' quarterback competition, but Eric Mangini won't announce that Quinn is the starter until after the first regular season game. … After winning his 10th NBA championship, Lakers coach Phil Jackson will announce that he has cured cancer, mastered time travel and discovered the secret to remaining peaceful while stuck in traffic on the Interstate 405. … As Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson was making his list of potential Hall of Fame presenters, with ESPN's Chris Berman on the top, the Internet columnist who annually pummels him was surely at the bottom.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. After rolling over in his grave because Jags defensive tackle John Henderson missed a voluntary workout with a shoulder injury, Vince Lombardi assumed a ghostlike form, visited Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio's bedroom in the middle of the night, raised an ax over his head and said in a haunting voice, "Keep chopping wood.".

2. LeBron James was less graceful and poised after the Cavs' Game 6 defeat to the Magic in the Eastern Conference finals than actor Jason Patric was after his partner's poor play led to his banishment from the shuffleboard table (subsequently owned by a group of tenacious Y! Sports staffers) at a Santa Monica, Calif., watering hole Tuesday night.

3. There has been a more insufferable rock anthem recorded than Don McLean's "American Pie."

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

So I had just cleared security in Terminal 1 at LAX on Thursday morning, and I wanted to grab something healthy before my flight, so I went through the Starbucks line and picked out a plastic cup full of plain yogurt and fruit, with about eight pieces of separately packaged granola, and placed it on the counter. "That'll be $5.41," the barista said. Five dollars and 41 cents? Really, Starbucks? I get it that L.A. is one of the nation's more expensive markets, and that things are marked up in airports, but $5.41 for that in this economy? That's an interesting pricing decision. And yes, I was tired and weak and I paid it – this time. But I'm also complaining about it to all of you, which may win me some love the next time I go to Peet's.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SHOTS FOR …

Exene Cervenka, whose haunting vocals for X ruled the thriving L.A. club scene during my high school days. Exene revealed earlier this week that she has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but insisted that she will keep rocking, which I don't doubt: Having once watched her sweat her way through a pre-Big Game gig at Cal while she was very pregnant in the mid-'80s, I'm a believer. Also, I'm toasting my friend Marcellus Wiley(notes), who was recently named the 2009 recipient of the Advocate Award by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Regardless of what Fran Tarkenton might have you believe about the former standout pass rusher and engaging ESPN analyst, "Dat Dude" is doing great things for the planet.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

After Cal's women's crew fell just short of its third national title in five years last Sunday, finishing second to a school I can't bear to mention, the top-ranked men give it a whirl this weekend in Sacramento, attempting to build on the legacy of legendary former coach Steve Gladstone. Speaking of really smart people, President Obama just enlisted two more UC Berkeley economics professors into his administration, appointing Carl Shapiro as the chief economist in the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division and Joseph Farrell to a similar post at the Federal Trade Commission.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Hendrix murdered

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

His name is Brendan Rodgers, and I'm counting on him to lead the Reading Football Club back to the English Premier League as quickly as possible. Rodgers was hired as the Royals' new manager, replacing Steve Coppell, after a seven-month stint at Watford, where he boosted the club from the relegation zone to a 13th-place finish in the Football League Championship. Securing the rights to Rodgers, who previously spent nine years as the coach of Reading's youth team, cost the Royals a compensation package that could rise to a million pounds. I really, really hope he's worth it.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

When King James stormed off the court without congratulating the Orlando Magic following the team's series-ending victory over the Cavs last Saturday night, it reminded me of a certain hoodie-wearing coach after a recent Super Bowl defeat – and it made my colleague Adrian Wojnarowski a tad grumpy. I'm guessing the more gracious members of LeBron's supporting cast weren't overly amused, either, and I picture those Cavs belting out their frustrations like Joe Walsh at the mic for the aptly named James Gang. To the tune of "Walk Away":

Fell way behind
Ran out of time
Superman carried them through
Exchanged hand-slaps
Gave 'em some dap
Everyone hugged 'em but you

Seems to me
That you're kind of a sore loser
Seems to me
You just bow your royal head and walk away

Pulled up your socks
Toyed with the Hawks
Thought it was all about you
You buried that three
Set your sights on Kobe
Now the Finals will go on without you

Seems to me
Bolt the gym head to New York and
Seems to me
You just did what Isiah
Did to MJ

Seems to me
That you're kind of a sore loser
Seems to me
You just bow your royal head and walk away

We got to cool ourselves down
Stompin' around
Thinkin' some words we can't name ya
One year 'till you're free
I think we all agree
We'll all kiss your ass to retain ya

Seems to me
You're our lovable sore loser
Seems to me
You're a royal pain but please don't walk away
Walk away

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