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Gosselin: Healing begins in Tennessee

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    LaTunaNostra He Made the Difference

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    Rick Gosselin: Healing begins in Tennessee

    Titans' Fisher offers fired coaches chance to have fun again


    07:07 PM CDT on Thursday, September 30, 2004

    Successful head coaches in the NFL wind up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The unsuccessful ones wind up in Tennessee.

    For the second time this decade, Titans coach Jeff Fisher reached out to a dismissed comrade and gave him work.

    The first time it was Gunther Cunningham, who was fired as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2000 season. The second time it was Dave McGinnis, who was fired by the Arizona Cardinals after the 2003 season.

    "I put myself in their shoes," Fisher said. "Ultimately, that day comes for all of us. I wanted Gun to know, several days after he was let go, that he had a job here. The same thing with Dave, I wanted him to know there would be an opportunity for him here."

    Both Cunningham and McGinnis had been successful NFL defensive coordinators before becoming head coaches. But Fisher hired them both as linebacker coaches. That's part of the rehabilitation process – get them hands on again with the players.

    "As head coaches, you look forward to the one thing during the week you enjoy doing – that's coaching," Fisher said. "But you don't get much of a chance to do it because of everything else that's going on.

    "I wanted to create an atmosphere where they could both roll up their sleeves and coach again. Let me worry about everything else. Just go coach. It brings a lot of credibility to our program to get people like that who are willing to come in here and just coach."

    Cunningham served as the head coach of the Chiefs for just two seasons. He posted a 9-7 record in 1999 and a 7-9 mark in 2000. His record didn't merit an extension, nor did it merit termination. Cunningham was in shock after his firing.

    "He was numb for a while," Fisher said. "It was hard for him. It took him a good year to realize that there is fun in coaching – even after that fun has been ripped out from under you."

    Cunningham's coaching contributed to the emergence of Keith Bulluck as a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Titans. Cunningham also coaxed the talent out of Peter Sirmon, who rose from a fourth-round draft pick to starting middle linebacker and second-leading tackler on a 12-4 Tennessee team in 2003.

    "It was a great experience for us to have Gun here," Fisher said. "He will walk away saying it was a one-way relationship, that he gained a lot more out of it than we did.

    "But what I didn't anticipate from Gun was the effect he had on the rest of the team, not just the linebackers. He talked to everybody – receivers, offensive linemen. ... He was just fun to be around. And he did a great job with our linebackers."

    Ironically, the Chiefs hired Cunningham back in 2004 as their defensive coordinator. That left an opening on the Tennessee staff for a linebacker coach, and a suddenly available McGinnis was the perfect fit.

    The Cardinals fired McGinnis after posting a 17-40 record in three-plus seasons as head coach. He had other off-season opportunities to work as a defensive coordinator but opted to take the lesser position on Fisher's staff.

    "I don't know that these [hirings] would have been able to take place had we not had the success we've had for the last five years," Fisher said. "Because we've been successful, this is an intriguing place to work."

    The Titans are one of the highest-profile teams in the NFL. Tennessee has won more games than any team in the AFC this decade, qualifying for the playoffs three times and winning a pair of division titles.

    "When this opportunity presented itself, I could have cared less about the position or title," McGinnis said. "None of that mattered to me. I just wanted to be in a good place with good people. This is it. This is a football place. I'm extremely happy here."

    But it went beyond the building itself for McGinnis. It went directly to the head coach's office.

    "Jeff is a guy who epitomizes what you want to be and what you want to do," McGinnis said. "He has a tremendous reputation throughout this league for the way he handles his players and treats his coaches. He's got a tremendous grasp of what's real in this league.

    "He's someone you want to put it all out there for. The way I feel about Jeff Fisher is the way I'd want my assistant coaches and my players to feel about me."

    E-mail rgosselin@dallasnews.com

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