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TITANS' FISHER AIMING TO PEN SUPER ENDING

The legacy of Jeff Fisher is stored in the stockroom of the office building at 460 Great Circle Road in Nashville. It is in there, in the back of the Tennessee Titan headquarters, where the coach keeps his pens.

Boxes of pens. Boxes upon boxes of pens. Blue pens. Red pens. Purple pens. Black pens.

"We've got more pens than money," says O'Neill Gilbert, the team's linebackers coach.

But the coach wants the game plans and the practice plans in ink. Everything color-coded with magic markers. Tailbacks in green. Fullbacks in blue. Tight ends in red. When finished, the whole thing is a cacophony of hues.

Gilbert picks up a copy of USA Today that is sitting on the table in front of him. "It looks like this newspaper," he says. "I've never done all this before. Other places we just wrote in the initial of the position of the player and drew a circle around it."

Such is the essence of Jeff Fisher. A stockroom full of pens just so the practice plan is easier to read.

Fisher is not the exciting coach of this Super Bowl. He is not Dick Vermeil weeping at every victory or defeat, hugging his players and gushing lovingly about his owner. Fisher's answers are brief. His news conferences are short. When he is done, when he believes he has answered a sufficient number of questions, he cuts off the session with a terse, "That all?"

Still, Fisher might be the best coaching story this week. For when things got hard for Vermeil with the Philadelphia Eagles, the emotional coach quit. And when the St. Louis Rams revolted against Vermeil last season, the coach of law and order caved in to their demands. But Fisher has gone through hell with the Tennessee Titans, leading his players through the most tumultuous years a team could have known.

And after the Houston Oilers had rejected their city; moved halfway across the country; bounced from stadium to stadium; and eventually changed their name, their color, their very identity; Jeff Fisher took his team to the Super Bowl.

Nobody has ever done something like that.

"He might have been the only guy who could have held us together," says kicker Al Del Greco, who has been with Fisher since the coach arrived in Houston in 1994.

The Titan coach does not waste words. He also does not consume energy worrying about things that are out of his control. So when the team saw its fans abandoning it and the stadiums were empty and every day seemed to bring a new ordeal, the Oilers were able to survive. In some ways, they actually got better.

"The thing is, we knew it was coming," Fisher says. "We knew we were just going to have to overcome the difficulties associated with the move. And I really think that a big part of the success we have now was related to the way we handled those problems."

It's just nobody had problems like the Titans did.

The franchise essentially quit on Houston when the city failed to provide a new stadium. Vowing to leave a place that wouldn't give him a home, Oiler owner Bud Adams cut a deal with Nashville a full year before moving, placing the team in the unenviable position of being a lame-duck organization.

If it wasn't hard enough to whip a team into a frenzy before it ran out into an empty stadium, imagine trying to handle working out of a trailer the way the Oilers did when they first moved to Tennessee. Or setting up shop in the bottom of a medical building where patients would sometimes accidentally stumble across a team meeting.

Through it all, through the first two tumultuous seasons in Tennessee -- one in Memphis and the other at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville -- Fisher's teams were 8-8 both seasons. Not spectacular, but not bad given the circumstances.

Then Adams threatened Fisher's job before this year, telling him essentially that he better make the playoffs or else.

"You have to look at the big picture," says Floyd Reese, the team's general manager. "If you're looking at what I'm looking at, the 8-8 is pretty good. He was coaching his butt off and we were working our fannies off. It would be hard to say he was the problem.

"I mean there were a lot of subtle things, like how do you handle the press? How do you handle the team in the locker room? He had to deal with things like which family members will be able to get on the bus to Memphis or will there be a nursery each day after practice."

Needless to say, no other coach had such distractions. Which is where being the boring coach made Fisher so good.

He never seems to change, this man with the piercing eyes and a mustache made for late-night cable television.

Fisher was determined that his players would see a coach in control, even if Tennessee saw an organization in chaos.

Remember the Music City Miracle? The kickoff return lateral that Frank Wycheck tossed to Kevin Dyson who ran 75 yards for the winning touchdown a few weeks back? The Titans worked on that play every day in practice. "Everybody used to just look at each other and say 'we'll never need that,' " Gilbert says.

Then one day they did. Eventually every one of Fisher's possibilities has its moment. It's part of the way the boring coach in this Super Bowl insists on making his days. He doesn't weep. He doesn't hug. But he'll have the more prepared team.

"The way Jeff Fisher looks now is the way he's going to look tomorrow and the next day and the next day," Gilbert says. "He'll never change. His hair will never be mussed. He won't be yelling. He makes it comfortable for everybody else. Everyone else might be in a panicking mode and he's just calm."

This is Jeff Fisher. The boring coach in this Super Bowl.

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