After the Tennessee Titans drubbed the Jacksonville Jaguars 30-3 on Monday night in Jacksonville, Titans coach Jeff Fisher indicated during his postgame press conference that he had been encouraged by a representative from ESPN or the NFL to take some of his remaining timeouts in the waning moments of the game because the necessary commercials had not aired during the game telecast.
(Even when pressed by reporters, Del Rio wouldn’t budge)
Fisher also strongly implied that Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio took two such courtesy timeouts in the final two minutes of the game, despite being down 23-3 at the time, in order to fulfill the NFL’s TV commercial obligation to ESPN.
Fisher later backed off the statement, claiming that he was joking. ESPN also subsequently denied exercising influence on the coaches.
But late Tuesday Fisher told Terry McCormick of TitansInsider.com that he was indeed approached by an NFL official during the Monday night game about the television timeout situation.
“At the two-minute warning in every game in the fourth quarter, there are conversations that go by. There’s conversations that take place at the two-minute warning before the first half. But there’s conversations that take place, and it’s the official’s responsibility to give the head coach a status of commercials and TV timeouts.
“Yesterday, I was told that they were two short. And they looked at me and smiled, and I said, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you.’ (NFL official) Mike Carey came across and said, ‘Here’s the deal. We’re two short.’ And I said, ‘Mike, I can’t help you. I’m trying to get a first down and I’m gonna kneel on it.’”
Fisher on Del Rio:
“Jack used his timeouts. Whether Jack used his timeouts because the official said we’re two commercials short, or he used them to stop the clock to get his quarterback Trent Edwards some reps remains to be seen.”
Meanwhile Paul Bond of the THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER noted of the NFL’s reaction to Fisher’s comment and the league policy on refunding TV broadcast partners for commercials that do not air in-game:
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league and all of its broadcast partners leave it up to coaches to determine when to use their timeouts.
Del Rio has not commented on why he called the late timeouts.
There are supposed to be 20 commercial breaks during a football telecast, and if ESPN sold commercials that did not air, refunds could be owed to the advertisers. Neither ESPN nor the NFL would say Tuesday who might be responsible for paying such refunds, nor did they say whether all of the ads planned for Monday’s game aired.
“We’re looking into it,” McCarthy said.
Finally Del Rio addressed the subject on the record late Wednesday, though he was in no mood to divulge exactly why in the dying moments of Monday’s game he took two timeouts while on the business end of a Titan blowout.
“I’m not going to get into what Coach Fisher’s saying. My answer is, this wouldn’t be talked about if we’d just stopped them on fourth down. That’s the only reason you’re asking the question. We didn’t make the play.
“I don’t really care to sit here and rehash events of a month ago. Or three days ago, if you will. Next question.”
When a reporter pressed Del Rio about the time outs, he joked about it:
“They say if you do this (call a timeout), we’ll have you on again next year (laughter). So we got one coming, we’re going to be on Monday night next year.”
Gamblers and fantasy football players might not think the situation amusing though - along with those concerned about the integrity of the game. And if his taking timeouts on behalf of league and/or ESPN interests was absolutely not the case on Monday night, why didn’t Del Rio just say so on Wednesday?
ESPN has denied “directly or indirectly” asking coaches to take timeouts, which the NFL has not publicly disputed. So that leaves the possibility of the league gently nudging coaches to burn timeouts late in games if it means avoiding some manner of make-good with its broadcast network partners.
As NFL spokesman McCarthy said, the league is “looking into the situation.”
From the opaque handling of the situation by Del Rio and the NFL so far, I’m guessing the league is taking the matter a lot more seriously than it is letting on.
As it should.