Tennessee Titans Have a Leadership Problem

Yesterday I watched the Tennessee Titans seem to fall apart on the field. From being shut out from scoring to fighting on the field to the defeated look on the Titan player’s faces on the sidelines, this is obviously a team in difficult days.

The post game shows were saying, “this is a team in trouble” or “this team is going downhill fast”. As a student of leadership, I have tremendous respect for coach Jeff Fisher and, although I’m a more silent NFL fan, I have enjoyed watching his team since the Titans came to Tennessee. I’m wondering now what it will take to bring the team back together. I suspect it’s more than getting a new quarterback.

I wonder if the biggest dilemma for the team these days is a leadership issue.

In case you aren’t familiar with recent drama, quarterback Vince Young injured his thumb and is out for the season. Notoriously immature, Young apparently stripped off his jersey and shoulder pads and tossed them into the stands after Titans coach Jeff Fisher prevented him from returning to the field in an overtime loss to the Washington Redskins. Fisher gave him a timeout, but Young reportedly got into a shouting match with Fisher in the locker room following the loss and stormed out of the stadium. Fisher responded by banning him from a team meeting Monday. Finally, I hear Young pulled a “class-act” by apologizing to Fisher via text message.

Anyway, here’s where the leadership battle starts. Coach Fisher is an old-school style of coach. He demands to be respected by his team, and he has the experience and reputation in the league to deserve it. It appears Fisher would be done with Young, except that owner Bud Adams says Young is going nowhere. Both Fisher and Young are under expensive contracts and the team can’t afford to buy out either contract. In my opinion, it leaves Fisher crippled as a leader.

What do you think? As a former business owner, I understand Bud Adams dilemma. He has a bottom line to protect. You can argue that point all you want, but if the team is no longer profitable, it can’t continue to operate as a business…and, make no mistake about it, professional football is a business. On the other hand, I am a leader of a team. I can imagine how it must feel to have a key player who has seemingly been given the freedom to do whatever he wants and knows the leader can do nothing about it. Fisher can sideline Young, but he can’t get him off the team. I also know that if you tie a leaders hands you cripple his or her leadership and the ability to lead well.

Do you see the problem? What do you think? Some of you football fans educate me if you want, but what am I missing? Is this a player/coach problem or a leadership issue?  Have you ever had a leadership issue where you were accountable for results, but didn’t have ultimate authority to do your work?   What would you do if you were Coach Fisher? What would you do if you were Owner Bud Adams?

Let’s talk about it…

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21 thoughts on “Tennessee Titans Have a Leadership Problem

  1. (this commenter commented via email and asked to remain anonymous)

    I think The Titans have both a player/coach challenge and a leadership
    issue that is about to happen. I say it that way because the owner has to let the coach do his
    job, but no one person is greater than the team, and we all know the Titans are a better team
    when Young is playing up to his ability. Behind the scenes, owner and coach need to have a
    dialogue if it hasn't already occurred. Young, Fischer and Adams are all part of the leadership
    team, but their roles have to be restated sometimes, and the big picture must be understood
    by all parties….I suspect that is what is happening, however it is such a distraction. Urgency
    may be lacking due to the injury….if Young wasn't injured would this have happened, and would
    there be urgency to get him to play if the injury was minor? I suspect so. Given Young is out,
    what's the urgency outside of total disruption of your team? If I was Adams, I would call Fischer
    and check in with him on status and strategy. Once clarified, a meeting with my staff would be
    next to get their input. Meeting with Young and/or the team would be my consideration, as
    would a review of the contract language under professional conduct.

    I recently resigned from my ministry position as children and youth pastor last year. Inherited
    a few problem people who had been given free reign pretty much over the past few years.
    Here's a few angles: one kid like Young was in his early thirties but immature; he was fired
    about 2.5 times and they decided to give him another chance on my watch. Turns out he is
    still a weak link and same issues surface only this time an accusation of fondling some kids.
    Truth comes out….this was a leader problem with the team leader and it was allowed due to
    poor leadership at the top. No accountability. Next: woman who doesn't have any responsibility
    wants to lead and forces herself in most things; one of the hardest workers, but so much time
    has to go into fixing what she has damaged in terms of relationships. I challenge the leader, (owner)
    as to why this has been allowed….give her a position of responsibility or get rid of her….make
    a decision. We gave her a position where she isolated a small group who became very
    divisive. The leader fired her so to speak, and I look at that as progress, we gave her a chance,
    but she chose to fail along with our blessings. She left the church and is now in ministry at her
    new location. In my case, I did the job of three former people and as I observed why they left,

    I recognized that some things might happen to me, given the leader's personality and style.
    When certain similiarities started to come my way, I knew it was getting time to leave. A
    leader/owner/pastor can't talk out both sides of his mouth and maintain respect. Most of us
    have been there. A time came when I knew my assignment was over and I left.

    Recently we observed similiarites at Dallas where the coach hung his head as his team
    self-destructed. I'm sorry, I said his team when I should have said Jerry's team. Ha!
    Where is the line drawn in middling; encouraging, and making changes? Jeff Fischer is
    a look alike twin to my cousin, so I take notice of his person. Like Jerry Jones, the owner will probably
    fire him because he notices the change with the team in Dallas. It just so happens, the QB
    is out for the season there also, but a change in their energy is taking place. Expectations.

    Some of us don't know how to act like men. How should men act? Young is trying to figure
    that out. Fischer probably thinks that Young should know that already especially given his
    salary…..which doesn't have anything to do with being a man. I have already given them too
    much of my time. Here are three men involved in leading a team and all three are dealing
    with the same thing: trying to overcome the pain of failed expectations. Look how many
    coaches have recently been fired; the year after they received contract extensions…….
    What's up with that?
    Twitter: Ronedmondson

  2. I totally agree that Fisher has had his power usurped. He is the head coach and he is the one on the field seeing what needs to be done, and what is best for the team. VY was a great QB in College, and he has been decent in the pros, but He isn't the best QB in the NFL. Cut your losses and get a better QB.

    Fisher looks like a no-nonsense guy most players would enjoy playing for….and I hear he doesn't swear http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=5591958

    What makes me most upset, is that I had the titans as my defense this weekend in Fantasy Football and they didn't score many points this week!

  3. As a Titans fan, this is a hard one for me. I recently wrote some thoughts on this same subject involving Tony Romo. In this case, if I'm Bud Adams, my thought is simple: There are a # of great QB's out there, many of which would probably love to come play for the Titans. Trying to find a coach of the caliber & tenure of Fisher is another story. Good luck!
    If I'm Jeff Fisher – a coach that has faithfully poured 16 years into a team – I need full support from the owner down to the equipment managers. But it starts with the owner. As much as he makes my stomach crawl, Jerry Jones finally had to make that decision. Hopefully rather than fire, Adams will fully support his coach.
    Vince Young – needs his Momma to take him behind the woodshed.

    • Ha! I like the woodshed comment. May be too late for that, but should have happened a few more times when he was a child for sure! Thanks!
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  4. Ron, interesting post. I've been thinking the same thing about the Titans for the last couple of weeks. While leadership is coach to player, players need to also see leadership from their fellow players. Vince Young has not done. Go back to his booing incident last season were he went missing for a few hours. He should have stood up and explained the situation. Instead he hid behind his mom and others who have enabled him all of his playing days. The Titans need a strong leader. You look at the current successful NFL teams, and all have those strong player voices.

    I do believe Jeff Fisher's message is getting stale. It's been that way for the last 3 or 4 seasons. Time for new leadership with the head coach and quarterback.

  5. I tend to lean the other way. I would believe Jeff Fisher is a great coach if he can pull his team in order, including Vince Young. It's easy to lead a team that respects you but a true leader will find a way to make it work through the difficulty. Getting rid of Vince Young is taking the easy way out. He doesn't have an option right now. He can prove his mettle by turning Vince Young into a real leader. Clearly puffing his chest out isn't working, he needs a different approach.

    I see this too many times in the body of Christ. If you don't fit, don't agree or don't respect leadership immediately, you get kicked out. Seriously, I've seen it done diplomatically and I've seen people straight out be asked to leave a church. I believe true leadership embraces the challenges and uses these situations as an opportunity to help them and those around them mature.

    A real accomplishment isn't getting 100% agreement, it is getting 100% respect. Two different things.

    • You bring a great perspective Tony. Leadership is about bringing differences of opinions, personalities, and characters together to accomplish a common goal. I do wonder, though, how successful one can be if they are really sitting in the 2nd chair, but the guy in the 1st chair isn't supportive.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  6. I have witnessed Jeff Fisher in many previous seasons being the consommate leader. But it seems, to me, that when an owner steps in and takes away part of the authority a coach has, as in any business, that coach or manager is rendered impotent, so to speak. We've seen it happen with Jerry Jones and a long line of coaches with the Cowboys for years. Things go well, as long as the owner allows the coach to do his job. But the moment the $$ becomes an issue and/or the owner believes that his knowledge of the coach's job is as good as said coach, the leadership bond has been severely damaged. And at that level, the damage is usually irrepairable because there is too much pride on the line. I have seen the same type of thing happen in business a few times when the heirachy of management gives "titles" instead of authority. As soon as the authority is denied, their effectiveness is non-existent, and those under that person knows it and the immature, opportunistic are well on their way to "eating" the weak links.

    • I tend to agree. If "authority is denied, their effectiveness is non-existent"… Thanks for discussing this
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  7. The issue as I see it, obviously from way outside, is that Bud Adams and Jeff Fisher are not on the same page. I respect the supposed "old-school" style of Fisher. (I hesitate to use that phrase myself, as I believe that showing up for work, working your tail off, and getting what you deserve is not old school at all. I see it as the only school.) If Bud Adams cannot get his coach to see the merits of this player, he has a choice to make. Leaving them on the same team is not it. He (Adams) either has to convince Fisher to handle Young differently (which would undermine Fisher's effectiveness with the other players who have bought into the system), or convince Young that what is best for him and his career, is to take the coaching that Fisher offers and learn from it (a scenario that seems unlikely). Ultimately the leadership issue in the Titan's organization is not a Fisher issue, it is an Adams issue.

  8. Great stuff Ron. I think Fisher is right in wanting to be done with VY, but it doesn't appear as though Bud will let him be done. Bud has been gushing over VY since he was in High School – and for good reason, as he is supremely talented. You look at the leadership in his life (from coaches), and Fisher is 180 degrees from Mack Brown. Mack is loose, listens to rap, is "one of the guys." Fish is old-school, show up and work your tail off, earn your place as a leader type of guy. I won't make excuses for VY, but it might be that he just doesn't work well for people with Fish's leadership style. All that to say, if I'm Fisher I am done with Young. His job is to play the players that best enable them to win games. Period. If it costs him his job, so be it. He won't have trouble finding another one. The Titans should trade VY (somebody will take a chance on him…the Raiders?!) and move on. It might be best for all involved.

  9. This is a common problem in leadership. Leaders that undermind the leadership they put in place. When you do this you place no confidence in the leader you put in place. This will in turn undermine everything the leader like Fisher will try to accomplish. The coach should have been corrected in private to avoid him losing respectability to his players. The owner might as well get another coach cause noone will respect him now and he has hurt his own credibility because he hired Fisher. Makes the whole organization look bad cause the owner didn’t handle the situation correctly and gives power to immature people who need to learn to grow up.

  10. Fisher never welcomed Young and has not supported him on the team. Once Adams added him to the team, the leader should have supported him and moved team forward. He’s taking his frustration with Adams out on Young.

    A text message was not the proper way to apologize. Why did Fisher announce it? To create more drama? He needs to address his issues with Adams.