National Football League

Is Jeff Fisher Still Capable of Being a Winning Coach?

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As Jeff Fisher enters his fourth season with the Rams, time to succeed is starting to get away from him.  While owner Stan Kroenke is all in on his coach, that doesn’t mean Fisher’s term will result in success.

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Fisher is 20-27-1 since joining the Rams in 2012.

In the last three NFL seasons, six teams have made the playoffs with coaches working for their second team; the Seahawks with Pete Carroll, the Lions with Jim Caldwell, the Broncos (now Bears) with John Fox, the Patriots with Bill Belichick, the Chiefs with Andy Reid, and the (now former) Redskins with Mike Shanahan.

Each of those head coaches made the playoffs by the third year of their second (or third, in Shanahan’s case) stop.

Carroll, Caldwell, Fox and Reid all made the playoffs in their first year with their new teams.

Meanwhile, since 2010, there has been only one coach to get more time with his franchise than Fisher that was able to reach the playoffs; Gary Kubiak of the Texans in his sixth year there, 2011.

Every other coach that’s made the playoffs in the last five seasons did so in his first three years with the franchise.

This shows me that if you know how to coach and have success, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you are.  You implement a program and win with it in your first three seasons.

Interestingly, in those same five years, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Philadelphia have made the playoffs under two different head coaches…the Lions under Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell, the Colts under Caldwell and Chuck Pagano, the Chiefs under Todd Haley and Andy Reid, and the Eagles under Reid and Chip Kelly.  This tells me that part of success occurs above the head coach.

I’ve always thought that an NFL head coach is essentially a CEO. His overarching jobs are to implement a philosophy for his assistant coaches, and then to instill effort and discipline.  Of course, on game day he makes the key decisions, but Monday through Saturday, he doesn’t necessarily have to be an X’s and O’s guy as much as an overseer.

Discipline, by the way, includes holding on to the football, taking the football away, and staying away from penalties, especially those that occur outside of the whistles.

For the patience that Kroenke has shown with Fisher, who admittedly took over a catastrophe, the improvement hasn’t mirrored that of his peers in the industry.

In three seasons under Fisher, the Rams have yet to reach the .500 mark.

The offense has ranked 23rd, 30th and 28th.  Yes, they’ve had quarterback issues.  But this is an administration that came in saying it would adapt to the talent on hand in it’s first year, then hoped to become a passing team with Sam Bradford protected by a veteran offensive line and throwing it around to Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Jared Cook in it’s second.

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Sam Bradford played in only 49 games over five seasons with the Rams.

That high-priced experiment ended after four games in 2013, and the philosophy switched to a run-first approach.  In 2014, with Bradford injured, the Rams still had trouble finding an identity; ranking 20th in rushing and 23rd in passing.

Yes, there were injuries to the quarterback and on the offensive line, but the players counted on had been injured the year before as well.  Bradford, Jake Long, Roger Saffold and Scott Wells had all been banged up and missed time in the previous two seasons.  There wasn’t much reason to believe that as they got older, they’d get healthier.

On defense, perhaps through no fault of his own, Fisher went through three defensive coordinators in three seasons.

And the league rankings reflected the instability, dropping from 14th to 15th to 17th in the three seasons.

And the things I look at haven’t improved much, either.

Fisher is a player’s coach who gets his guys to play hard, but the desire to be a physical, pounding offense didn’t mesh with last year’s older, injury-prone offensive line.  I don’t question the effort of his players, but I do question their ability to stay healthy.  It’s hard enough for young players to stay healthy, but the Rams had three older offensive linemen last year, and committed to a physical, run first approach.  That doesn’t seem to be a way to keep players healthy.

Philosophically, in a league that still rewards teams that run the ball (of the top eleven teams in run vs. pass ratio last year, six made the playoffs), it would seem important to have a younger, less injury prone line.

This year, the Rams took four offensive linemen in the draft in an effort to reinvent themselves up front.  They could have tried that last year, but instead took QB Garrett Gilbert, project T Mitchell Van Dyk, DB C.B. Bryant, and DE Michael Sam with four straight picks on the last day of the draft.  Three of those didn’t make the team last year, and the fourth, Bryant, likely won’t ever play a down for the Rams.

Meanwhile, after the Rams took Gilbert and Van Dyk, the Bills took tackle and sixteen game starter Seantrel Henderson, and the Bears took Charles Leno, who started a game last year and is having a good camp this pre-season as their number two left tackle.

In terms of penalties, according to, the Rams have led the NFL in unsportsmanlike conduct penalties with five in each of the last two seasons.  They were second in the NFL with ten unnecessary roughness penalties last year, and second with five roughing the passer penalties.  Again, it’s great to be physical and tough, but those penalties of fifteen yards are devastating, as we saw again in Sunday night’s loss to Tennessee, when Robert Quinn’s roughing the passer turned a 3rd and 7 at the Rams 22 into a 1st and 10 at the 12, leading to a Titans field goal.

It’s great to hear Fisher say the team needs to cut down on penalties, but actions speak louder than words.

Last year’s Rams finished minus-2 in turnover ratio.  Only one team that finished negative in the plus/minus made the playoffs…Indianapolis at minus-5.  The other eleven playoff teams finished even or ahead in turnover ratio.  In Fisher’s three seasons they’ve been minus-1, plus-8 and minus-2.  They need to be consistently better in that department to be a playoff team.

Interestingly, in recent years Caldwell took the Lions from -12 to +7 and Reid took the Chiefs from -24 to +18 in their first years.  This was a consistent trait of teams coached by Bill Parcells and Marty Schottenheimer.

Again, in a microcosm, the Rams didn’t have a takeaway on Sunday night, but Nick Foles did throw a pick-six interception, and St. Louis lost.  A focus on protecting and taking away the ball can result in a better ratio, and more wins.

Fisher has been a great NFL coach.  But with the rules and philosophy changes in the league, he has yet to adjust.  This will be an interesting season for Rams.

Can he make the move, or has the game passed him by?

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