Are the Titans going to look outside the box in their search to replace coach Jeff Fisher?
Many seem to think they won’t, and that the elevation of offensive line coach Mike Munchak is a mere formality. Nothing against Munchak at all, but I hope it’s not so cut and dried. We don’t know their intentions or timetable, though owner Bud Adams indicated it might be just five candidates (three of them would be in-house guys, one a Rooney Rule candidate) and a quick decision.
Go more than 16 seasons with one coach, it would be wise to take your time and poke around thoroughly in the search for his replacement.
On the front side, I’ll say Rich Bisaccia is a guy first put in front of me by someone who is close with him and wants to see him succeed. I’m not certain he’s the guy for the Titans’ job. I don’t know him.
I do feel certain he’s the sort of guy who should get a look, and so ask that we might consider him an example of the kind of guys the Titans can talk to from a league where Raheem Morris and Mike Smith and John Harbaugh and Mike McCarthy have turned out to be great hires.
Bisaccia, who turns 50 on June 3, recently became special teams coach in San Diego, hired to clean up a mess. His contract was up in Tampa, and a change of scenery probably was best for career advancement now. Boost the special teams for a franchise with the NFL’s top offense and defense in 2010, and perhaps there is a Super Bowl ring to be had as well.
Before joining the Chargers, he spent nine seasons with the Buccaneers under Jon Gruden and Morris, overseeing special teams, earning an associate head coach title in 2008 and coaching the running backs for a season, too.
It would be hard for him to get in front of the Titans with no connection, but there is one. Tennessee’s vice president of personnel, Ruston Webster, is a trusted aide of general manager Mike Reinfeldt. Webster was an executive with Tampa Bay for four years while Bisaccia worked on Gruden’s staff there.
Listen to what Gruden (who said he’s not been contacted about the Titans’ post and is working hard to get better at his ESPN gig) and Derrick Brooks, the All-Decade linebacker from the 2000s, have to say about Bisaccia and it’s hard not to come away wondering, why not interview him?
“I coached a long time, he’s one of the best coaches I’ve worked with and I’m not just trying to be his agent or publicity manager,” Gruden said. “He’s a tremendous football coach, great with players, smart, works his butt off. I’d hire him as a head coach. If I was in position to interview people and look for quality candidates and he’s certainly one of the best I’ve been around.”
“Special teams guys -- he’s not an offensive coach or a defensive coach, he's kind of a wefence guy. He was my running backs coach, special teams coordinator, jack of all trades. He’s very good at personnel; he’s got a vast amount of experience. I hope he does get an opportunity to present himself. Sometimes that’s all people need is a chance to get in front of the people that are making these decisions.”
Baltimore broke into the special teams rank to hire John Harbaugh in 2008, finding a coach with special teams’ expertise who has dealt with players from most positions. Like Harbaugh, I’m told, Bisaccia has that fiery special teams’ personality -- something that sounds to me like a logical change when you’re switching course from Jeff Fisher’s California Calm.
“He’s gotten the best out of everybody, and for me, being around him since 2002, I jumped at the opportunity to play for him on special teams despite being a starter on defense,” said Brooks, now an ESPN and Sirius NFL analyst. “I wanted to be part of what he was doing with other guys, I was a little jealous. I even inserted myself in practice as a punt returner. I really did want to be a part of what he had going on with our core group of guys on special teams.”
But Bisaccia’s not solely a special teams’ guy -- he played at Yankton College in South Dakota as a defensive back, and was on the USFL Philadelphia Stars in 1983 where his teammates included Sam Mills, Bart Oates, Irv Eatman and Sean Landeta.
In the college ranks -- at Wayne State, South Carolina, Clemson and Mississippi -- he coached quarterbacks, receivers, defensive ends, tight ends and running backs. What kind of messages would he bring and team would he field?
I didn't talk to him for this post, but there is no doubt that as he begins to line up things for his new job in San Diego he'd welcome the chance to interview for such a big promotion.
Gruden said Bisaccia is charismatic, creative and energetic and qualifies as a “fundamentals freak” who can develop players. (That, to me, should be the Titans’ No. 1 objective in this turnover -- player development.)
“I know he has a program and I know he knows it works,” Gruden said.
In Tampa Bay, Gruden arranged his team’s own rookie symposium and made Bisaccia its “band director.” He was charged with mentoring the first-year players, an important assignment from Gruden.
Brooks said Bisaccia’s a quality teacher, a straight-shooter and a multi-tasker who would hold players accountable to his message. He’d let his coordinators coordinate and would preach ball-security above all else with one of his favorite messages: “You’re carrying the hopes and dreams of the team in your hands.”
So Biasaccia’s endorsed by a coach who won a Super Bowl and is coveted himself. He’s endorsed by one of the best defensive players of his era. I know the Titans could have hundreds of qualified candidates with similar references. I know Gruden and Brooks are speaking in support of a friend -- but you don’t put your name on the line for a friend if you don’t believe he can succeed.
All it would cost the Titans to talk with him -- or another guy fitting a similar mold -- is the price of a flight and a nice dinner along with a day of their time.
I’m certain Bisaccia will answer his phone. Why not ring him?