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Lessons in Loyalty

Titans' Fisher Hasn't Forgotten Those Who Helped His Ascent


Not long after the Tennessee Titans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship game, the doorbell started ringing at the Woodland Hills home of Roger and Janette Fisher, parents of Titan Coach Jeff Fisher.

"It got a little noisy," Roger said. "People started coming over with bottles of champagne."

Last year, another San Fernando Valley product, quarterback John Elway, led the Denver Broncos to victory in the Super Bowl. This time, it's Fisher, Woodland Hills Taft High class of 1976, who will try to orchestrate a Titan victory in the Super Bowl.

"We're excited, we're happy, we're very proud," Roger said.

The Fisher family has lived in the same house for 24 years. Jeff, 41, calls his parents after every game, whether he's taking a bus to the airport or driving home in his car.

There won't be any need to phone home today. His parents flew to Nashville on Friday, then drove to Atlanta to watch the Super Bowl before heading to Fisher's home in Franklin, Tenn.

"He wants us there Monday night for a victory party," Roger said.

Fisher's football coach at Taft, Hal Lambert, who's 74 and gave up full-time coaching after suffering a heart attack in 1980, is feeling invigorated.

"I'll tell you, I'm probably not as high off the ground as he is but close," Lambert said. "I'm still his biggest fan, although I can't say I'm bigger than his father and mother."

The Fisher supporter who might have the most energy and enthusiasm is his 90-year-old grandmother, Olive Hatton.

"She's amazing, with an unbelievably clear mind," said Fisher's youngest brother, Chris. "She called Jeff after the Jacksonville game in December and said, 'Hey, I was telling my girlfriend I was going to drink a margarita after each time you scored, but I had to stop after three.' "

Persistence, perseverance and loyalty are the qualities Fisher has embraced from his earliest days growing up the oldest of five siblings.

He combined athleticism with intelligence. On the night in 1975 when he set a school record with 12 receptions for 258 yards and two touchdowns against Chatsworth High, Fisher made a more lasting impression by suggesting to Lambert that the team take a safety late in the game to protect a 25-21 lead. Lambert agreed, and Fisher made sure quarterback Carl Garvin followed the strategy by knocking him down in the end zone.

Fisher went on to play cornerback at USC during a time when Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith and Joey Browner were in the same secondary. He was an All-Academic Pacific 10 Conference selection his senior year. He became part of USC-UCLA lore in 1980, tipping a pass in the fourth quarter that was caught by Bruin running back Freeman McNeil for a game-winning, 58-yard touchdown.

Fisher was drafted in the seventh round by the Chicago Bears and played five seasons. He was selling computer software in the off-season, but his football instincts, knowledge and competitiveness convinced Bear assistant Buddy Ryan to offer Fisher a coaching position with the Eagles in 1986.

"He never even thought of coaching until Buddy Ryan had him on the field," Lambert said.

Fisher, at 36, became the second-youngest head coach in the NFL when he was promoted from defensive coordinator by the Houston Oilers in 1994.

"He's always excelled at whatever he's done and is one of those guys who works his butt off," said Bill Spooner, an NBA referee who played receiver with Fisher at Taft. "All the records I set he went out and shattered the next year. I haven't forgiven him yet."

For the last three years, Fisher has returned to the Valley each spring to host a charity golf tournament that benefits the Valley Youth Football Conference.

"Jeff is just a down-to-earth, caring individual," said Bill Speer, the tournament organizer. "He's an amazing man."

Troy Starr, the current Taft football coach, spoke with Fisher at last year's tournament and found him more than friendly.

"I'd still be there talking with him if people didn't take him away," Starr said.

Fisher's sense of family and loyalty can be seen in his quarterback coach, Bart Andrus. The two played Little League and youth football together, Andrus the quarterback, Fisher the receiver.

Now their two sons, ages 7 and 8, are repeating their fathers' steps in reverse roles.

"Bart used to throw the ball to Jeff, and now Trent is throwing to Bart's son," Roger said.

All season, Fisher's brother, Chris, has been watching Titan games at his Moorpark home, which is equipped with a satellite dish. The gatherings have been growing with each Tennessee victory.

"It's Nashville West," he said. "It's been an amazing season."

Chris will join family members in Atlanta and cherish the moment his big brother has worked so hard to achieve.

Lambert will watch the game from a friend's house in Northridge while probably shouting coaching instructions to Fisher through his TV. He'll understand exactly what Fisher is going through.

"His stomach is going sideways, and mine is going round and round," Lambert said.


Fisher's Record

In his first season in the playoffs, Coach Jeff Fisher has guided the Titans to the Super Bowl:



Year Team W L .Pct *1994 Houston 1 5 .167 1995 Houston 7 9 .438 1996 Houston 8 8 .500 1997 Tennessee 8 8 .500 1998 Tennessee 8 8 .500 1999 Tennessee 13 3 .813 Totals 45 41 .523




1999 Tennessee 3 0 1.000



* Won wild-card against Buffalo, 22-16.

* Won divisional playoff against Indianapolis, 19-16.

* Won conference final against Jacksonville, 33-14.

*--Interim coach.

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