Say this much about the Rams: They don’t easily cave to outside noise.
Despite the increasing calls for Los Angeles to move on from coach Jeff Fisher as the franchise steamrolls towards its fifth straight sub-.500 record under his leadership, the front office apparently thinks highly enough of Fisher to keep him around. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the Rams and Fisher had, in fact, signed a two-contract extension through 2018.
Rumors of such an extension had been floating since earlier this season—the Rams’ first back in Los Angeles. SI’s Jonathan Jones even speculated last week that Fisher may know something the general public did not about his job status.
Turns out, that was true. Which is enough to make you wonder why the Rams kept this all so hush-hush.
The obvious answer is that the backlash for the front office rewarding Fisher in the midst of a disappointing 4–7 season would have been (and now will be) swift. The Rams finished 7-8-1 in Fisher's first year in St. Louis (2012), but they have not been able to match even that mediocre finish in the years since. Headed into Sunday’s game at New England, Fisher was just two away from tying Dan Reeves for the most losses (165) in NFL coaching history.
Still, there never was any indication from inside the organization that Fisher was headed for the exit.
“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,” Rams COO Kevin Demoff told the NFL Network 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.”
The cross-country move always stood as a built-in safety net for Fisher. He has even used it as an excuse following losses, the idea being that the unusual circumstances, including an appearance on Hard Knocks, placed the Rams behind the 8-ball before the season even began.
This is all ludicrous, of course.
Not that the Rams would have a tough time adjusting to Los Angeles after relocating from St. Louis—that’s obviously a major event with very limited precedent in league history. One would think that at some point, though, Fisher would be asked to produce results. The NFC West this season is as weak as it has been in years, yet the Rams are still an afterthought both in the division and wild-card race.
On top of that, the Rams also spent significant capital to trade up for Jared Goff atop the 2016 NFL draft. They took a patient approach to Goff’s development, only inserting him into the starting lineup ahead of Week 11, but the way that situation was handled only raised additional questions: Did the Rams legitimately believe Case Keenum could get them to nine or 10 wins? Was Goff kept on the bench not for his own benefit but as a fail-safe for Fisher, who then could argue he needed 2017 to see his full vision with the young QB? Is this coaching staff even capable of developing Goff into a franchise QB?
There are no obvious answers, just like there is no obvious answer for how Fisher has managed to stick around.
Certainly, it should not go unmentioned that Fisher’s agent, Marvin Demoff, is the father of the aforementioned team COO, Kevin Demoff. Also perhaps worth noting is that the Rams’ new stadium is set to open in 2019, which is one year after Fisher’s new extension expires—if a coaching change is to come, L.A. might get more juice out of it should it happen right before the stadium’s christening.
Unfortunately for the Rams, there is little reason to believe that they’ll head into that new stadium as anything other than an NFC West also-ran. Fisher’s teams have been feisty on defense, at times, but downright unwatchable on offense. Between Keenum’s presence and a shoddy O-line, the Rams even managed to turn Todd Gurley from a rookie sensation into a second-year dud.
Goff’s move to QB1 two weeks ago did come with the promise of a jolt. However, the Rams managed just 227 yards in his debut (a 13–10 home loss to Miami) and then were hammered by 28 in New Orleans last week.
So, ’round and ’round we go. Barring a 4–1 or 5–0 finish, Fisher will fail to get to eight wins for the fifth consecutive year as Rams coach; he has not gone 9–7 as an NFL head coach since posting a 13–3 record with Tennessee back in 2008.
He will be a decade removed from that performance when his extended contract expires. Nothing he’s shown thus far with the Rams hints that he can replicate that success.