Carolina Panthers

Titans' Fisher, Panthers' Fox amazingly similar

CHARLOTTE -- There are coaches in the NFL who end up on the hot seat in their first years and fired not long thereafter.

That's what makes Tennessee's Jeff Fisher amazing and Carolina's John Fox amazingly similar.

Fisher has hung on through some lean early years and the Titans' self-inflicted swoon of 2004 and 2005 to hang onto his title as the league's longest-tenured coach. He took over as interim head coach in 1994 (when they were still the Houston Oilers), his 214 games the most of any active head coach.

"Thirteen years in any profession's a long time," Fox said to reporters. "And I would expect that would be a pretty highly tenured guy even in your jobs."

But in his, it's nearly unheard of.

Fisher didn't post a winning record until his fifth full season, but from 1999-2003 the Titans went 56-24, made four playoff appearances, two AFC championship appearances and one Super Bowl trip.

"I feel like I started yesterday and I take that approach every year," Fisher said. "The personality is different and the team is different. We have a really fine front office and an organization that works together.

"I'm just fortunate they put their trust in the staff and myself to get things done."

Also, that they let him hang on through the lean years.

The Titans were aggressive in signing players during the good times, which forced them to make deep cuts to stay under the salary cap in recent years. The payback came in 2004 and 2005, when they went 5-11 and 4-12, and cycled from the Steve McNair era to the Vince Young years.

They're just now moving back in the right direction.

"Jeff has done a great job," said linebacker Keith Bulluck, who's been there since 2000. "Not many get an opportunity to stay with one organization through their ups and downs. It's been good seeing how Jeff has handled it."

Nine wins in two years would have had many coaches talking to real estate agents, but Fisher credited owner Bud Adams for taking the long view.

"The moment you hesitate, or pause, you're going to fail," Fisher said. "We knew we would have a couple lean years and be forced to use the draft and rebuild, but eventually you start to work yourself out of the down cycle and we did that halfway through last season.

"Mr. Adams is very much aware of our circumstances. He believes in the fact that we would put things back together."

And while Fisher's long been recognized as one of the league's top coaches, his resume and Fox's remain nearly identical.

Both were Southern California guys. Both were defensive backs in college, although Fisher played at Southern Cal with stars like Ronnie Lott, Joey Browner and Dennis Smith. Fox was at San Diego State, playing alongside future NFL coach Herm Edwards.

Both came up through the ranks and became defensive coordinators, Fisher with the Eagles, Rams and Oilers and Fox with the Raiders and Giants.

Both have similar upbeat styles.

Both also have the same number of trips to the Super Bowl and trips to their conference's title game.

And while they're close, Fox has a better regular-season winning percentage (.552 to .537) and the same number of playoff wins (five) in seven fewer seasons. That hasn't kept Fox from being rumored to be in the firing line since last year.

The common denominator for both has been that they've struggled without their starting quarterbacks -- Fisher without McNair until Young arrived and Fox without Jake Delhomme.

"They both have the defensive mindset, and they look at the game very similarly," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said. "Defensive coaches spend their time trying to figure out how to solve a problem, and in their case, it starts as how to stop an offense.

"They take that mentality to the whole team, and how they deal with players. They have the ability to discipline a guy, and hold players responsible and at the same time, care about them as people."

Both have had to lay the hammer down, as Fox did with Steve Smith in 2002 and Fisher with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth last year. That those two are still performing at a high level speaks to the leadership styles.

They also share a trait of being able to rebuild, helping teams recover from rough spots.

Fox turned a 1-15 mess into a 7-9 record in 2002, including bouncing back from an eight-game losing streak to win four of the last five. That stretch has been credited by many as being the catalyst for the Panthers' Super Bowl run in 2003.

Likewise, he took the Panthers from a 7-9 disaster in 2004 back to the NFC Championship Game the following year, and has maintained a steady hand this year as his team has run through four quarterbacks.

"He talks about being the same guy, that's what he preaches," fullback Brad Hoover said.

He has made some adjustments. A month ago, Fox started taking a more active approach to the defense, stepping into meeting rooms he used to avoid to try to turn things around.

"The head coach has a lot of responsibility, he wears a lot of hats," defensive end Mike Rucker said. "That's what makes the difference in coaches -- how do people respond to tough times? Do you throw in the towel and point fingers, or do you find a way to rally the troops and find a way to get people on the right page?

"We put two back to back, and then we dropped one. That's the key in this league, to try to get multiple games in a row, get on a streak and riding that thing. We've had some trouble there, so we've got to put a streak together now."

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