Published January 06, 2011
We're barely a week into 2011, but Tennessee's Bud Adams just locked up my vote for NFL Owner of the Year.
When was the last time an 88-year-old boss decided to teach his team's 27-year-old star quarterback a lesson in what "mercurial" really means?
Yet that's just what Adams did Wednesday night by fiat from his office in Houston, telling the Titans' former No. 1 draft pick and fellow Texan Vince Young to hit the road.
"These kinds of decisions are never easy and this is especially true for this particular player," Adams said in a statement. "I certainly wish that things would have worked out better, but I think it is best for the franchise that we move on at this point."
You could have made a fortune during the last decade betting who would win every time a "him-or-me" argument between player and coach percolated to the very top of any pro organization. That's because it's always cheaper to chuck the coach, and it was almost certainly true in this case.
Jeff Fisher, the longest-tenured coach in the league, is set to collect $6.5 million next season in the final year of his contract; Young was scheduled to make as much as $13 million — including a roster bonus of $4.5 million — in the fifth and final year of his.
Adams can be a tightfisted owner and until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, it's impossible to say how much the Titans will owe Young — if anything at all — when they cut or trade him early next month. But enough money was still at stake so that Young, following Adams' lead, decided to temper his parting shot.
He thanked Adams, Fisher, his coaches, teammates and fans and said, LeBron-like, that he looked forward to "bringing my talents to a new team." But every one of them — save for Adams and a handful of teammates who were fellow Longhorns — would have volunteered to drive him to the airport long ago.
During five oft-injured seasons, Young was 30-17 as a starter, but a much more-telling 13-13 against opponents who were .500 or better. Fisher simplified the offense to accommodate the quarterback in his rookie year, but was never able to make much progress afterward.
It was no secret that Young watched only so much film, studied less, rarely played hurt and often showed up late for practice and rehab sessions, or skipped them altogether. Despite the grumbling at the lower levels of the organization, and with Adams' tacit approval from above, Young still behaved like the hotshot he was in college, prone to mood swings and still determined to get by on talent and little else.
But by the end of his second major meltdown in November — during which Young memorably tore off pieces of his uniform and tossed them into the stands, then punctuated it by cussing out his coach — one thing had changed: Fisher was finally tired of covering up for him.
He made clear Young wasn't going to start another game so long as he was coach, "even if he's healthy," and then kicked the can upstairs. It was a gutsy move, considering Fisher was far from blameless for the Titans' disappointing 6-10 finish and orders to take Young with the No. 3 pick in the 2006 draft came down directly from Adams' office.
Besides, Fisher's boss can be an imperious guy, as Adams proved little more than a year ago by celebrating a win over Buffalo with an obscene gesture that earned him a $250,000 fine from the league. Asking him to give up on Young — who engineered the Longhorns' 2006 run to the national championship — was a little like asking your parents to turn over the car keys.
Then again, Adams' desk was piled high with evidence. Besides the dire reports from his front-office staff, a newspaper poll earlier this week showed a majority of Titans fans wanted Fisher back over Young and reports of unhappy sponsors squeezed whatever little wiggle room remained in his heart for Young.
Adams tried to salvage some pride by saying he still intended to review the "direction of the coaching staff." That means Fisher, assuming he does come back next season, will have to make sacrificial lambs of one or more of his assistants. Likely among the first to go will be his close pal, Chuck Cecil, who moved up from defensive backs coach to coordinator only two years ago and still looks overmatched.
Even so, it's a small price to pay. You could cobble together a long unemployment line of coaches who got saddled with petulant stars and walked confidently into the owner's den saying "him or me" — only to walk out clutching a pink slip.
But this time, even Young's closest friends on the team had a hunch things would end differently.
"Some things you might not be able to fix" said tight end Bo Scaife, Young's teammate at Texas and Tennessee, "so you just move on."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org