As the Los Angeles Rams ripped up the contract they had with Jeff Fisher this week, the split between the head coach and the club opened up a wound that had been festering for some time.
Firing the individual with the greatest responsibility in the organisation is never done on a whim, there were major problems occurring behind the scenes and it is only now in the aftermath that some of those are made in the public light.
Fisher as a character is a type of fire and brimstone man, taking no backward step and getting a lot of people offside with his brash personality and cocksure nature.
These are not bad attributes in and of themselves, some of the best in the game are stubborn guys who push their squad to the limits and create a lot of enemies along the journey.
But what separates those figures from the likes of Jeff Fisher is their coaching ability, pure and simple. Where a Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh or Pete Carroll would succeed is exactly where Fisher failed – unable to get the most out of his players and allowing the issues going on behind the scenes to affect his work.
Since taking the head role with the then-St. Louis Rams in 2012, the tactician’s record sits at 31-45-1. In the NFC West, the outfit finished 3rd, 4th, 4th and 3rd to never feature in the playoffs and not even coming close to making that a possibility.
The 42-14 hammering against the Atlanta Falcons demonstrated that the game was up for Fisher, there was nowhere left to turn.
January football hopes had long been gone, yet this is the window to prove that the roster has something tangible to take into 2017. One field goal is all they could muster, a consistent stumbling block for a side that finds touchdowns as easy as the Cleveland Browns find wins.
Fortunately for LA, the NFC West features the 1-12 San Francisco 49ers and were it not for one of the worst teams in football, they would be dead last of most divisions. 197 points in 14 fixtures equates to an average of 14 points – to say that is not enough to be competitive is a major understatement.
It is the worst offence in the NFL, falling behind the likes of the Chicago Bears (221), 49ers (251), New York Jets (229), Jacksonville Jaguars (240) and even the 0-13 Browns (207). Fisher didn’t have a leg to stand on.
In his first interview after he was handed his notice, Fisher provided a mixture of humble admission that his record was indefensible whilst suggesting that he has an axe to grind.
“I want a chance to play the Rams (in the future),” smirked the out of work coach. “We didn’t win enough games and the organisation has a much bigger picture … I don’t think I was ever part of seeing a new stadium.”
Speaking with The New York Times, Fisher believed the leaked news of a contract extension through to 2018 had a damaging effect, stopping short of arguing that it was the straw that broke the camels back.
“It’s not my personal position to go ahead and release that stuff, so I was very appreciative with respect to Stan (owner Kroenke), knowing what we were going through,” he remarked. “And, you know, it somehow got out. So I am expecting to be the coach of the franchise; however, I fully understand that the wins and losses fall on my shoulders.”
Kroenke himself gave a bland platitude to thank the guy he has just put out of a job. “Making a decision such as this, especially during the season, is one of the most difficult in sports,” explained the team owner. “I have great respect for Jeff as a coach, person, father and friend.”
Running back Todd Gurley made a comment that was as intriguing as it was defiant. “I love him,” the player told reporters. “I don’t care what everybody else says.”
The 22-year old is only in his second ever NFL season and after managing 10 touchdowns in 2015, he has halved that number to date with 5 and has an average carry down to 3.2 yds. The youngster has only ever known Fisher as an NFL head coach and now he will have to wait and see what the franchise does from here.
To what degree Gurley was intimating at who “everybody” is, that is for him to know but where there is smoke there is fire. Confidence was undermined, guys on the roster were unhappy, the board were restless and the decision was ultimately made.
The campaign appeared to be on the skids from the get-go. From the Hard Knocks series that offered an insight into the organisation, players had to uproot their families to a new setting, bring in a rookie QB in Jared Goff who looked as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and a coach who didn’t have a good enough record to command the dressing room like he would want.
There is only so long Fisher can dine out on the fact he took the 1999 Titans to the Super Bowl, forgetting the fact he had not secured a winning record since 2008. As he suggested, the writing was on the wall for him and he thought he was never the man to take the franchise to a brand new stadium.
This entire fiasco falls just as much on Stan Kroenke and the entire organisation who gave him an extension, only to backflip and sack Fisher without ever giving him the tools nor the backing to do the job properly.
More rests on their next full time coach than other teams because they’re not trying to prove themselves in a new market that is fickle at the best of times. Fisher’s time in the NFL maybe over, but the Rams are staying put and they need to be a big draw again.