Fisher signs 5-year contract with Rams
About a month and a half ago, Jeff Fisher began scouting teams that were likely to have coaching vacancies. Watching video of the St. Louis Rams as they wound up a depressing three-year run under Steve Spagnuolo, Fisher saw potential.
"There's a really solid nucleus here," Fisher said. "Yes, there is."
Fisher perceived commitment, too, after spending time with owner Stan Kroenke. The usually camera-shy Kroenke reinforced that impression when he introduced Fisher to media on Tuesday.
"Jeff and I both put our names on a contract upstairs that will keep him here for a good while, and we're really excited about that," Kroenke said. He added that "the more we talked, the more comfortable we got."
Fisher agreed to a five-year contract worth a reported US$7 million per season late last week. Before the dollar amount was discussed, Fisher and the Rams had to agree on a list of about two dozen items, including the makeup of the coaching staff and front office.
At least for now, Fisher doesn't have an additional title such as president of football operations.
"My decision was very, very simple," Fisher said. "It was based on a shared collective vision in restoring this franchise to a place of significance. It was that vision that made my decision very, very easy."
Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who attended the news conference along with quarterback Sam Bradford, was impressed with Fisher's 17-year stay in Tennessee, and the Titans' reputation for toughness.
"That means he knows how to handle many personalities, he knows how to really relate to the players," Laurinaitis said. "He's was a player, he's been through those battles, he's been through training camps. He still knows what it means to be sore, to go through that rigorous process. I think it's instant respect."
During his interview in St. Louis, Fisher met with Bradford.
"Obviously, he's a tremendous coach," Bradford said. "Everyone that I've talked to that's ever played for him said that he's a great, great person to play for."
And now comes the challenge. The Rams finished 2-14 this year, tied for the NFL's worst, and have won all of 15 games the last five seasons.
Fisher said reports the Dolphins were his first choice were not true. And despite the Rams' struggles in recent seasons, Fisher said he doesn't think they're that far off. He said the Rams have holes but didn't want to discuss specifics.
The possibility of the Rams relocating in a few seasons was not a major factor in Fisher's decision. Kroenke can move the franchise after the 2014 season if the Edward Jones Dome is not deemed among the top quarter of stadiums in the NFL.
Kroenke was non-committal on the issue, noting that the city's Convention and Visitors Commission is due to make a proposal for potential upgrades on Feb. 1. He did make a reference to his investment in St. Louis.
"I've been around here a long time," Kroenke said. "Contrary to a lot of reports, I haven't taken a lot of jack out of the market. I have put a lot of jack into the market. We'll see how that process works out."
Fisher will have a role in the hiring of a general manager, and said several times that decision-making will be a collaborative effort. The Rams have targeted about a dozen candidates, a handful of whom they've already interviewed.
The Rams did not confirm any assistant coaches, although it's been widely reported that Saints defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams has agreed to join Fisher in that role. Fisher said only that he had some "very good options."
Fisher inherits a franchise with a recent history of futility, averaging three wins per season under Scott Linehan, interim coach Jim Haslett and Steve Spagnuolo.
The 53-year-old Fisher sat out the 2011 season after 17 years in Tennessee, saying he needed a break. His long stint with the Titans included a Super Bowl matchup against the Rams in 2000 in which Tennessee fell 1 yard shy of forcing overtime in a 23-16 loss. The Titans won three division titles and made six playoff appearances under Fisher, who stepped down as the league's longest-tenured coach.
After the Rams fired Spagnuolo, Fisher's name immediately jumped to the top of the search list.
The Rams had an advantage in the bidding against the Dolphins since the new coach's agent is Marvin Demoff, Kevin's father. Former coach Dick Vermeil was a consultant in the process, with Kroenke playing an active role.
Kevin Demoff said the relationship was beneficial as an ice-breaker, but afterward the Rams' offer stood on its own. Demoff said the time spent with Fisher during the interview process topped their previous contact.
"I'm sure there's a comfort factor but obviously he knows a lot of people in this league," Demoff said. "This wasn't about our relationship, this was about his vision for the Rams meshing with our vision.
"That's what really sold him on being here."
Fisher was interviewed twice, once in Denver where Kroenke owns the Nuggets and Avalanche, and again in St. Louis where he toured facilities. Kroenke clearly wanted an experienced hand; Spagnuolo and Linehan both came to St. Louis untested beyond co-ordinator duties. Spagnuolo, fired along with general manager Billy Devaney, was just 10-38 in three seasons.
St. Louis was considered a franchise on the rise after making a six-win improvement in 2010 and playing for the NFC West title in the finale, but was a total flop in 2011, playing a brutal schedule and hampered by injuries. The Rams haven't had a winning season since 2003, and they had the NFL's worst offence last season.
For all his longevity in Tennessee, Fisher had only six winning seasons, and a succession of 8-8 finishes brought out the critics. His most recent playoff victory came in January 2004, and his most recent winning record was in 2008 when the Titans squandered the No. 1 seed in the AFC by losing in the divisional round.
But Fisher led his team to at least 12 wins four times, and has a career record of 142-120 (.542). He coached more games for one franchise than all but six coaches, all Hall of Famers.
The Rams have the second pick in the April draft — the fourth time in five seasons with either the first or second pick. Fisher also inherits a handful of Pro Bowl-calibre talents including Bradford, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Chris Long and Laurinaitis.
Bradford was the top overall pick in 2010 and was the NFL offensive rookie of the year, although last year he missed six games with a high left ankle sprain and threw only six touchdown passes.