John Fassel insists Rams intend to finish lost season strong
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) John Fassel choked up briefly, his watering eyes roaming the room while he reached for a water bottle and paused during his news conference.
The Los Angeles Rams' interim head coach had just been asked about the final game in another losing season Monday, and his emotions reminded everybody of the heavy human cost of every big move in this franchise's tumultuous year.
''The morale is low, because it's kind of been the same thing for the last three months,'' Fassel said after addressing his players.
''If you just get a couple more wins and a little bit more hope, then the morale is higher. I don't think the effort or the preparation has deteriorated, but I think the morale has, just based on not winning football games, which I think is just human nature.''
The coaching staff and many players are entering their final week with the Rams (4-11) as they prepare for a visit from the Arizona Cardinals (6-8-1).
After blowing a 14-point lead at home against lowly San Francisco last weekend, Los Angeles has lost six straight games and 10 of its last 11, plummeting to the bottom of the NFC standings after its homecoming season began with a 3-1 start and ample promise.
Head coach Jeff Fisher has already been fired, and his assistants realize they'll soon be moving out of the team's temporary training complex in Southern California.
Many of these coaches already spent four years together in St. Louis, building a competitive team that repeatedly fell just short of a winning record, before banding together to engineer the Rams' move back to the West Coast.
In a 32-team league with only 12 playoff spots, most teams are going to be unsuccessful. The Rams realize they've failed, and it hit home for Fassel on Sunday while he spent time with his wife and two daughters, the youngest born in St. Louis.
''Takes a long time to build relationships with coaches and players,'' Fassel said. ''I've been able to do that over five years, and it's hard to think of that just being done. ... Just maybe because it was Christmas and I finally got to see my kids, which - it had been a long time - just thinking back at not only this past year, but the past four years in St. Louis, where we had a lot of great times, a lot of great memories, a lot of fellowship built, a lot of great relationships built, and it's going to change.''
The Rams will finish the franchise's 13th consecutive non-winning season with their worst record since 2011, but Fassel is determined to prevent the players from rolling over against the NFC West rival Cardinals.
He already mentioned several individual statistical goals as motivational tools, including the slim chance to grind out a 1,000-yard season for running back Todd Gurley, whose struggles have been the most disappointing part of the NFL's worst offense.
''We had a good team meeting to talk about nothing after the season and what happens starting next Monday, but everything that happens between today and Sunday,'' Fassel said.
''Just a little mindset-starter to get us going this week, and I would anticipate us preparing and performing at the highest level.''
The Rams also would love more success at the Coliseum, their temporary home for the next two seasons while their billion-dollar stadium rises in Inglewood.
Los Angeles has won at home just once all year long, losing five consecutive games since beating the Seahawks in their ballyhooed Coliseum opener in mid-September.
While the 42-year-old special teams coordinator's head coaching stint is wrapping up, Fassel will have fond memories from his half-decade with the Rams.
He also won't regret everything that happened during this draining season, which began in St. Louis and included a three-month offseason stint in Oxnard, followed by a six-week training camp in Irvine before moving into their new training complex.
''There's just been some great relationships built,'' Fassel said. ''Not only this year, but in the years that I've been here, and most of us have been here the past five years. I think that will be something that I will remember, and hopefully the players will remember, more so than blowing a two-score lead with six minutes left in a game.''
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL