NFL Football: Young-McNabb, Fisher-Shanahan, and Media Inconsistency

Most NFL writers trashed Vince Young after his shoulder-pad throwing, walking out on Jeff Fisher blowup on Sunday. The grilling ranged from moderate such as’s Peter King

And though Young’s played better this year (10 touchdown, three interceptions), I get the sense the coaching staff has tired of spoon-feeding him a version of the offense and not the whole thing, which makes Collins a more desirable option at this point, despite his age and creakiness.

to the more blunt and even angry Charles Robinson of Yahoo:

So if you want to see this week’s biggest loser, look for the guy who threw half of his uniform in the stands after Sunday’s 19-16 overtime loss to the Redskins.

I’m not here to defend Young’s actions. There’s an unwritten code of player-coach behavior, and as bogus as a coach’s decision may be, you can’t openly defy the coach without damaging yourself and, likely, the team. My focus is on the free pass that Jeff Fisher has received, not just in the recent episode but over the last couple of years. In reading King, Robinson, or others, one would get the impression that VY has done ok but not much better than Kerry Collins. A glance at facts shows how silly this is.

VY’s rates were 5th among NFL QBs in 2010 (QB rating = 98). 5th! Without taking into account his running threat.   KC’s rating equals 79 — in the Chad Henne range. His career rating is below mediocre 73. Beyond QB ratings, the W-L records of the two are night and day. Starting in 2006, when they both arrived at the Titans, VY was 30-18 as a starter, and KC was 13-14.   These records mask the most direct comparisons because VY started almost all of the 2007 season and KC nearly the 2008 season. The two seasons shared a sizable number of starts with roughly the same set of other offensive players, the numbers VY dominates.

In Young’s rookie season of 2006, Collins started the first three games and went 0-3. VY took over (at owner Bud Adams’ insistence) and went 8-5. In 2009, KC guided the team to the infamous 0-6 start and the 59-0 defeat at New England. VY took over and went 8-2 in relief (again, only at Adams’ insistence). In these two most comparable years, their two records were 0-9 versus 16-7, and VY was a rookie in one of them.

Fisher doesn’t like Young for whatever reasons. After an ugly opening season win and eventual injury, he benched him for good in the 2008 season. Even after the 2009 debacle, Fisher’s hand had to be forced to insert Young. A week earlier, Fisher insisted that Collins “gives us the best chance to win.”  Despite Young going 9-2 since that insertion, Fisher pulled him in the second half of the second game against Pittsburgh.

Young sustained an injury, but even with a bye and even though Young was healthy enough to play in the Miami game this year, eventually, Fisher chose to start Collins. Then, Fisher didn’t put him back this past Sunday, offering Shanahan-Esque varied reasons:  “he never came to me and said he was ready” … “he wasn’t throwing accurately on the sideline.” As it turns out, Young’s thumb needed surgery, but Fisher did not know that at the time.

Part of the backstory here, ignored by mainstream media, is Fisher’s organizational power play and a strange fascination with Kerry Collins (see Titanic Moves). In 2006, Fisher and GM Floyd Reese feuded over the acquisition of Kerry Collins, a move Reese saw as unnecessary given veteran Billy Volek. Immediately on Collins’ arrival, Fisher demoted Volek to 3rd string. The team traded Volek to San Diego, with Volek getting a couple of shots in at Fisher’s supposed integrity with players on his way out, to which Fisher responded angrily. Reese was on his way out before the start of the next season (the Collins/Volek situation coming on the heels of differences over Pacman Jones — supposedly Fisher’s guy too).   At the time, much of this had to be pieced together, but Volek and, later, Reese’s wife blew the lid off in a radio interview in Nashville in 2009.

A couple of observations. First, my main interest in this piece is the lack of scrutiny on Fisher compared with Mike Shanahan’s trashing over his pulling of Donovan McNabb a few weeks back. Shanahan’s move was silly, as were his varied attempts at justification. Yes, McNabb has misplayed, but that’s the horse you chose to ride, and the backup is Rex Grossman. Fisher’s treatment of a young and vastly improving QB, who is their best option now and could be for the long haul, is just as silly; yet, only Deion Sanders seems ever to raise that part.

Why the vast gulf in treatment of the two coaches. It’s not coaching accomplishments. Shanahan wears two Super Bowl rings and holds a 59% winning percentage and a 61% playoff winning percentage. Fisher has a 55% winning percentage, 45% playoff percentage, no Super Bowl victories, and only two trips to the AFC Championship game. Readers can help me out on this, but I can’t think of any coach in the Super Bowl era who has stayed with the same team for 17 years without winning a Super Bowl.

If the media treatment doesn’t stem from coaching reputation, it may grow out of long-run player reputation. In 2010, Young’s performance was much better than McNabb’s, but McNabb had a much longer career. His career passer rating is good but not great (85), but his legs also contributed significantly to the first half of his career. Good performances over a long stretch build up reputation and goodwill with the media.

Or, maybe, the big difference is McNabb’s diplomacy versus that of Young. Shanahan’s move upset McNabb, but he “held to the code” and didn’t lash out. Even the 41-going-on-17 Brett Favre essentially played “passive-aggressive” in his defiance of Brad Childress. That’s where VY was not wise. In this era, it’s easy enough to let your “sources” become the sources for the Chris Mortensen’s of the world and build your case there.    Or, maybe going to the owner directly after the season might have been his most decisive move.

Second, the internal balance of powers on a team is essential. GM-coach, coach-players, sometimes owner-coach (as with Jerry Jones or Bud Adams). There are exceptions, but a system in which the GM and coach work together and check each other’s powers seems to work best (See GM v. Coach: Optimal Disagreement).   Although the Titans have a GM in name, Fisher controls the roster and on-field decisions (excepting the interventions by Adams).

The stories now are about how this is going to play out. I’m not too sure.   VY’s actions did put him in a good light. On the other hand, Fisher has been defiant of Adams ever since VY arrived. Adams has wanted VY to be the guy, let Fisher make the decisions, and only intervened when things were spiraling totally out of control. Yet, Fisher has continued to undercut this move with his treatment of VY and his willingness (often through assistant coaches) to trash VY to the media even as the guy succeeds. Adams has said he wants them to work it out, but Fisher’s banning of VY from team meetings doesn’t seem oriented in that direction.

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Author: Brian Goff

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3 thoughts on “NFL Football: Young-McNabb, Fisher-Shanahan, and Media Inconsistency”

  1. Tennessee is a much smaller media market than Washington. I’m sure this has helped Fisher avoid scrutiny while he’s built his empire over the years.

    To me the notoriety of Shananhan pulling McNabb is because of who he put in as a replacement: Rex Fricking Grossman.

    BTW, the case against Young is not any better due to his stats. The knock on him has always been that he’s great until he hits a rough patch and then he falls to pieces mentally and professionally. This is the same person who Fisher himself considered suicidal a few years ago. Whether it’s a fair claim, it will stick until Young can endure a season without a tantrum.

    Either way, you’re right Fisher is probably at the end of his rope in Tennessee . I’m sure his managerial tactics will be under much higher scrutiny in any other market he might get a job in.

  2. The sanest piece of journalism that I have read regarding the hypocritical media coverage of certain players! Thank you so much for sticking with the facts and presenting them. Can you send your article to ESPN? They could learn a thing or two on what real sports journalism is supposed to be.

  3. I’m from neither market but here is my take..Shanahan is a decent guy but an INCREDIBLE nit picker and a hard Coach to like. He’s been successful and his problems with McNabb are counter productive..Mike came into an underachieving franchise and McNabb’s flaws are well known..just ask Andy Reid.

    I like Jeff Fischer very much as a Coach…anytime the Titans are tired of him send him to the 49ers (my team)….The Titans made a huge mistake taking Young when they did..he was Tebow without grit or intelligence..sorry..that’s the way it is..

    Fischer is now stuck with a young man he can’t teach and one who has a well ingrained attitude. With all due respect the Press knows this and what you are reading is what they KNOW about the deal..Shanahan is past it…Young has been and IS a prima donna…and Fischer is a very good Coach…

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