Coach’s mastery at winning for losing
On an early episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” last summer, Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher summoned wideout Deon Long to the office. Turns out that Long had brought a woman to his dorm room during training camp, a violation of the Rams’ strict no-visitors policy.
He was cut on the spot and Fisher later explained the decision in a team meeting. “I’m not f---ing going 7-9 or 8-8 or 9-7 … we have too much talent here for that,” he said. “We had some 7-9 bulls--- this morning and we can’t have that. Deon is gone. That is 7-9 bulls--- and we don’t need that.
Fisher was right. He doesn’t need a rule-breaker to go 7-9.
He’s a master all by himself. News broke early Sunday that Fisher is getting a two-year contract extension. Although the agreement reportedly was reached during the preseason, the timing was odd because the coach recently emerged from a public spat with Rams legend Eric Dickerson, who is not a Fisher fan.
In fairness, Dickerson isn’t alone. Fisher is unlikely to find many supporters outside of family and team management.
A “Tale of the Tape” graphic during Sunday’s Rams-Patriots broadcast showed exactly how far he is from being great. He has coached 22 seasons, the same as New England’s Bill Belichick. But Belichick entered the contest with 77 more wins, 44 fewer losses and a 14-6 lead in playoff appearances. Fisher needs just two more defeats this season to surpass Dan Reeves as the NFL’s all-time losingest
The Rams are well en route to the typical underwhelming campaign with Fisher at the helm. At 4-8, the best possible outcome is a .500 season in their return to Los Angeles. That actually would be quite an accomplishment. Over his first four years with the franchise, his teams in St. Louis went 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10 and 7-9. Taking his entire career into account — he spent 17 seasons with the Houston Oilers/ Tennessee Titans — Fisher’s teams have exceeded eight victories just a half-dozen times.
But as the extension demonstrates, clearly he knows how to win at SOMETHING. Just not football very often. Fisher found the perfect place for continued employment – a revolutionary franchise that evaluates a coach by criteria other than the won-loss column.
“Everybody will want to judge Jeff through the prism of just the record, but that’s totally unfair when you look at the set of circumstances he was handed this year,” chief operating officer Kevin Demoff told NFL.com recently. “It was different than any team in the NFL.
“We moved halfway across the country, then had OTAs in Oxnard. Training camp was in Irvine, now we’re in Thousand Oaks. We moved coaches and players and families. To provide leadership and consistency, he’s done a model job.”
Demoff must be using a five-point scale whereas everyone else gives out 10s for top models.
It’s fair to wonder if Fisher’s agent, Marvin Demoff, tampered with his son’s eyeglasses. That might be the only explanation for the COO seeing something in Fisher that’s invisible to everyone else, especially Dickerson.
No NFL player has rushed for more yards in a single season than Dickerson’s 2,105 with the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. It was the Hall of Famer’s second of four seasons in L.A., where he led the league in rushing thrice and set the rookie record for most rushing yards in a season. The Rams never missed the playoffs during his tenure, making him the team’s last link to greatness in southern California.
He’s also among the masses who are positive that the team needs a new voice. Dickerson didn’t need much convincing, but Fisher provided it anyway, banning him from the sideline due to criticism in the media. Now Dickerson is a leading figure in the “Fire Fisher!” crowd.”
“He’s not the coach for this football team,” Dickerson said Sunday on Fox 11 Los Angeles. “He’s had five years of this. I feel bad for all the Rams fans because I feel like I’m the Rams fans’ voice. I’m a fan like Vince (Ferragamo, the Fox 11 co-anchor and former Rams quarterback) is a fan, like (Hall of Fame right tackle) Jackie (Slater) is a fan, and I feel like we’re going in the wrong direction with the football team.”
Fisher shouldn’t get too comfortable. Even as news of the extension spread, so did suggestions that it merely buys time until the Inglewood stadium opens in 2019. Why not get the added buzz of a new hire to go with new digs?
The Patriots cruised to a 28-10 victory Sunday, holding Los Angeles to just 25 yards of offense in the first half, the lowest total for any team this season. The Rams are dead-last in the NFL in total offense (284 yards per game), first downs per game (15.7) and last in third-down conversion rate (32.5 percent); they’re merely near the bottom in all other offensive categories.
Whatever Fisher is doing, it’s not working.
Maybe he should allow visitation during training camp next season.