In an unexpected development in what already has been a turbulent offseason in Tennessee, the Titans and Jeff Fisher, the NFL's longest-tenured head coach, are preparing to part ways, SI.com learned Thursday afternoon.
The Titans officially confirmed the news in a one-sentence press release Thursday evening.
Later on Thursday, the Titans released an offical statement: "We will be forever appreciative of Jeff Fisher's leadership and accomplishments through his time with our franchise. We reached some of our greatest heights and experienced some unforgettable moments during his tenure.
"After the season was complete, we had numerous discussions on the direction of the team and were pleased that we were moving forward with Jeff at the helm. Since that time, it became evident that consensus was increasingly hard to find and reality wasn't matching the vision we discussed. It is unfortunate that this decision is coming at this juncture, but we believe that we have reached the point where change is in the best interest of both parties.
"We will start the head coaching search tomorrow. We expect to talk to a broad and diverse group of candidates. We are confident the coaching pool still has a number of quality candidates that can lead our football team."
The Titans also included a statement from Fisher, which read: "I want to thank Mr. Adams and the organization for a special 17 years. I can't thank the fans enough for the support they showed us through the years; it has been a tremendous experience. We all did our very best and I think I can look back with fond memories and be very proud of what we accomplished. I want to wish the organization, the current players and the fans nothing but the best in the future."
The team scheduled a news conference for Friday with Fisher expected to attend to discuss the first coaching change since the franchise relocated to Tennessee from Houston in 1997. One of the leading candidates to replace Fisher is Mike Munchak, the Titans offensive line coach. The Hall of Famer is a favorite of Adams.
According to a league source, only Adams, Fisher, Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt and team general counsel Steve Underwood were aware of the finer details of Fisher's imminent departure late Thursday afternoon.
Fisher has been on the job with the Houston/Tennessee organization since being named interim head coach late in the 1994 season, and he was expected to return for a 17th full season this year. But Fisher's future with the team beyond that was considered somewhat tenuous given that he was entering the final year of his contract, and Adams did not decide to retain him until Jan. 7, five days after Tennessee closed out a disappointing 6-10 season -- the Titans' worst since 2005.
In choosing to keep Fisher and release fifth-year starting quarterback Vince Young, Adams had seemingly settled the protracted standoff that had existed between Fisher and Young since late November, when the two had a very heated argument in the Titans' locker room following a home loss to Washington.
While it's not known what prompted the change regarding Fisher's status in Tennessee, league sources say Fisher was not happy to lose a pair of his longtime defensive coaches last week. Fisher fired defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, one of his closest friends, and saw well-respected Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn accept a similar position on Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia. Given that Fisher had just one year of security to offer any potential coaching replacements, it was thought that his task of filling those roles would be difficult.
The Titans started promisingly in 2010, going 5-2 and fielding the league's second-highest scoring offense behind the Patriots through seven weeks of the regular season. But Tennessee lost eight of its final nine games, suffered through the Young-Fisher controversy, and endured the news that offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was diagnosed with cancer.
The Titans missed the playoffs in each of Fisher's last two seasons, going 8-8 in 2009 after an 0-6 start. Tennessee is the only team in the NFL to have a losing streak of at least six games in both of the past two seasons. Tennessee's last playoff trip came in 2008, but the No. 1 seeded Titans wasted their 13-3 regular season when they lost at home to No. 6-seeded Baltimore in the AFC divisional round.
Fisher was the NFL's youngest head coach at 36 when he was promoted from Oilers defensive coordinator to interim head coach in mid-November 1994, replacing the fired Jack Pardee. He was named the franchise's full time head coach in early January 1995, and went 142-120 (.542) in his 16-plus regular seasons with the Oilers/Titans. But Fisher was just 5-6 in the playoffs, with one Super Bowl trip (1999), four division titles and six postseason berths over that span. Three of Fisher's five postseason wins came during Tennessee's 1999 Super Bowl run -- it lost that game to St. Louis, 23-16 -- and the Titans have not won a playoff game since winning at Baltimore in the first round of the 2003 postseason.
While speculation swirled around the Fisher and Young drama earlier this offseason, Fisher repeatedly said he hoped to finish his coaching career in Tennessee. Fisher, who will be 53 late next month, was under contract for $6.5 million in 2011, and had been in his job more than four full seasons longer than the NFL's next most-tenured head coach, Philadelphia's Andy Reid.
Fisher has coached more NFL games for one franchise than all but six Hall of Famers: George Halas, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Curly Lambeau and Bud Grant. He ranks third among active coaches in career wins with a record of 147-126, behind only Bill Belichick (176) and Mike Shanahan (160), and he is 20th all-time in coaching victories.