Rebuilding the Titans Also Means Rebuilding Its Character
By Jeff Fuqua
Posted January 5th, 2006

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. -- Helen Keller

For the Titans fan, there is little to be optimistic about entering this off-season. For that matter, things haven't gone very well since Drew Bennett dropped a fourth down pass in the 17-14 loss to the Patriots in the 2003 AFC Divisional Playoffs. On the most part, times have been tough all around.

On the road to a combined record of 9-23 the past two seasons, we've seen a team riddled with injuries, witnessed many of the players which were considered the heart and soul of the Titans become a part of a massive cap purge, and watched players get into a number of off-the-field issues which became distractions for the team.

The 40-13 disaster in Jacksonville highlighted a number of problems the Titans face but spotlighted one which may overshadow the massive salary cap situation they dealt with after the '04 season. It is a problem that can't be solved with a high draft pick or acquiring a couple of free agents.

It is the issue of character. Or to be more precise, a lack in the type of character it takes to be successful in the NFL.

"Character" refers to the combination of qualities or features that distinguish one thing from another. To put it simply ó characteristics you have or want to have. For the Titans to have a quality team, those qualities should include desire, intensity, commitment, leadership, focus, pride, attitude, honor, discipline and anything else you'd naturally associate with excellence in most any profession.

Those are characteristics we saw far too little of in the final two games of the season as the Titans were blown out by a combined total of 41 points. 18 penalties for 140 yards in the finale is just one indication of what the once mighty Titans have become. They were down a staggering 40-0 entering the fourth quarter. Coach Fisher stated the obvious afterward. It was simply unacceptable.

These stats point to something more than poor results. It points to the effort given to create those numbers. In other words, the team's character. A number of quotes from players on Monday underscored that character, specifically professionalism, is no longer a part of the Titans locker room for some of the players.

"I think you've got to be professional," LB Rocky Boiman said. "Being a professional doesnít mean you walk into an NFL locker room. It means taking care of your business at all points, every day, all week, all year, outside the locker room, inside the locker room, being professional. And maybe thatís something as a whole that we need to do."

Leadership has also taken a back seat as many of the veterans have been unwilling or unable to step into voids left by the cap purge.

"Our locker room wasn't as strong as it has been, obviously," G Zach Piller said. "I came in as a rookie and we had a great core. We had great leadership, and my second year and third year, and it's been slipping. Look at all the character we lost last year. Character means a whole lot."

How about pride, commitment or honor in giving 100% even when it's hard to stay focused because your team hasn't been in the playoff hunt since October?

"I can't answer that question for everybody, but I know how hard it is mentally to prepare for games that don't count," Piller said. "That's a fact. We haven't won back-to-back games in two years, and for the most part we haven't played in a game that mattered in two years. Obviously season-openers you take that stuff away. But it's hard to do mentally and guys need to figure it out so we can play in games that matter."

Let's hope such a comment was made in frustration because it is hard to believe professional football players can feel a NFL game doesn't mean anything when their job hang in the balance.

With a team that heads into the off-season with a number of character issues, Titans Coach Jeff Fisher possibly faces his toughest challenge. He has to know he has one shot to right the ship as the free pass he's received due to a string of successful seasons has likely reached it's conclusion and that the '06 season will be the deciding factor if he is to remain head coach of the Titans. Admitting that he may have mishandled a number of issues this season is the first step in a journey of returning his team to respectability by returning more character to it.

"It is important that we all, all of us, re-evaluate what we are doing and the commitment," said Fisher. "That is what happens. That is what traditionally happens over the next four-to-six weeks. As a staff, weíll look at it. Weíll evaluate each and every player. We stress that. It starts with me. Every coach, everyone in the organization, we have to reevaluate what we are doing. Did we do the best possible job we could? Especially the last couple weeks, Iíll be blunt and be honest with you. There were some people looking in other directions. There were some players that were laying blame on either the youth of the team or the injury situation, or the fact that their futures were up in the air. The reality is we had a job and a responsibility to stay focused and to do the best that we could."

Fisher must define the character he expects from his team, make sure his players clearly understand it and then do everything in his power to re-enforce it because, as was said by James A. Froude, you can't dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself into it. Without hammering it home in how he deals with every aspect of the team, it'll only be lip service and little will change. He can't talk discipline and just give players a slap-on-the-wrist for being undisciplined. He can't preach focus and then praise his team as improving when they blow double-digit leads.

I'm not going to go as far as to say a team with ideal character will guarantee a winner. Certainly the young Titans will need to further develop their talents, the team will need to draft well and GM Floyd Reese will need to fill a some holes via free agency. But talent without character will only take the Titans so far. It is a main incredient for any recipe for success.

All eyes will be on Fisher the next few months to see how he handles the issue. With the Titans experiencing enough trial and suffering this season, hopefully the team will use the off-season to begin finding the character needed for a successful 2006 season.

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