Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don't Just Get By

I feel the same way about Vince Young walking out on Jeff Fisher’s post game conference as I did about Michael Vick shooting the double bird salute to a booing Atlanta crowd after a close loss at home: Good for him. At some point, you don’t owe people any more respect than they give you, and both young men certainly earned more than they had received from their respective targets at the time things fell apart. Hell, in the case of Fisher, I’m not sure the man has earned a level of objective respect for his accomplishments, considering that he hasn’t won anything significant in a decade, watched his team flame out in their best season, and singlehandedly prevented his team from reaching the playoffs last year. At what point do we say that a coach's job is to maximize the achievement of his young talents while protecting them from the pitfalls of great expectations in the NFL?

Contrast that with what Fisher has done to Young: He fed into the growth of Young's legend when it benefited him to do so, failed to construct a roster to protect Young as a passer, sacrificed Young's development at the altar of pragmatism, and finally hitched Young's future to an unrealistic requirement that he live up to a lightning in a bottle past, essentially demanding that Young become a solid starting quarterback in order to earn the right to develop into a solid starting quarterback. I like to think that Young leaving that locker room was a moment of clarity, one that ought to be commended in a young man who is so recently removed from being dangerously handicapped in his self-understanding: Fisher was never going to respect Young, let alone embrace him as the inextricable part of Fisher's future that he is. Why stay in that room, pleading for a resolution that had been dangled in front of him all year but would never arrive? We hesitate to put ourselves in the shoes of athletic phenomenons paid more than we can imagine, but I refuse to believe we can't all sympathize with the suffocating relationship Young was in, or nod our heads at the decision to break free and come up for air.

All of this is why I think Bud Adams gets it. Yes, Fisher has done a commendable job turning grunts and foot soldiers into a winning football team. That is why Adams keeps him around; he’s the kind of coach who will rarely helm a dead fish of a squad. Adams’s refusal to jettison Young, however, speaks to an understanding that for all of the good things he does to keep the team afloat, Fisher shouldn’t get to KEEP this team treading water, where he can deflect criticism with the refrain of making lemons out of lemonade. Young (in addition to Chris Johnson, who plays a position that is much easier to transition to the NFL, and Kenny Britt, with whom Fisher has also had major problems) represents the potential for greatness, which benefits everybody but Fisher, and which Adams has wisely chosen to force Fisher to either embrace, or flee.

As foreign as that seems to NFL coaching society, shouldn’t the debacles of the Singletary and new-Parcells eras show us that talent isn’t beaten out of an unwilling pupil by an infallible tyrant, but highlighted by an understanding coach creating an environment in which his player can succeed? If Fisher does decide that he won’t be told how to do his job, one that he has proven capable of doing over the years, I’ll ask for the same thing I’m asking for Vince Young: Understand that a man has a right to refuse to be bullied.

1 comment:

Alex said...

The Jeff Fisher/Vince Young relationship always seemed to operate on a level of operatic weirdness that needed to end. Vince Young is the young, fragile diva. Jeff Fisher is the cold, withholding father figure determined to run his young protege into the ground in a quest to regain his own former glory. Hell, there's even a suicide attempt thrown in there for good measure. Yes, Vince Young is an immature brat, but Jeff Fisher wasn't helping matters AT ALL.

On the flip side, though, who do you think *could* be the coach Vince Young needs?