If the most recent rumors are to be believed, then Jeff Fisher will be the next head coach of the St. Louis Rams. Will he actually be the Rams' next head coach? That remains to be seen. Between now and when Stan Kroenke makes his hiring decisions, Fisher's name will come up again and again in connection with the Rams. It's worth knowing a little bit about him with Black Monday just three champagne filled days away.
A primer on Jeff Fisher after the jump.
Fisher played college ball at USC, a native of the L.A. area. Fisher started life in the NFL as a cornerback with the Chicago Bears, those Chicago Bears, except he was on IR for the 1985 Super Bowl championship. Of course, it was working on the sidelines during that season that got him into coaching working with none other than the legendary Buddy Ryan. As a coach, Fisher's roots on are defense. He learned under Ryan and worked on that side of the ball until he became a head coach.
In 1986 he took a job, under Ryan, coaching defensive backs for the Eagles. He was promoted to the defensive coordinator job there after two seasons. I suppose there's some note of literary merit in that if the Rams hired Fisher, they would be hiring their second consecutive head coach who was once a defensive backs coach in Philly.
After Philly, Fisher went to L.A. for a year as the Rams defensive coordinator. Following that, he worked for two seasons, '92 and '93, as the defensive backs coach in San Francisco under George Siefert, which puts Fisher in the Bill Walsh coaching tree. In 1994 he started working with the Houston Oilers, sticking around with that team until 2010.
There's the Wikipedia summary. Now, for a little more of the football specifics.
Fisher runs a basic 4-3 defense. He always has. The defensive coordinators who coached under him in Tennessee, including Jim Schwartz and Greg Williams, also still run the 4-3 defense, which seemed like it might be gaining popularity after Bill Belichick started using it more in New England this season.
For more on Fisher, I talked to Jimmy over at Music City Miracles, SB Nation's excellent Titans community. As defensive guy, Fisher gives his coordinator a wide berth to operate, according to Jimmy. And his defenses, always in base 4-3, have had different personalities from the blitz-heavy Greg Williams to Schwartz, who blitzed only rarely.
The late Mike Heimerdinger was Fisher's offensive coordinator for two stints from 2000-2004 and 2008-2010. Norm Chow, recently hired to coach at Hawaii, filled in for the three years between Heimerdinger. Like most coaches with a background in defense, Fisher leans conservative in his offensive approach. Heimerdinger got Fisher to open things up, making the Titans a much more balanced offense with Steve McNair at quarterback. With a solid ground game, they threw the ball downfield more and more. The play-action with McNair and later Vince Young was key.
Here's Jimmy on Fisher's offense:
My biggest concern if I were a fan of a team that was going to hire him would be who he brings in as his offensive coordinator. He needs to hire a guy with some offensive imagination or you will be watching a really boring offense.
Based on what we know about the defense and Heimerdinger's record on offense, Fisher does at least seem like a head coach willing to let his lieutenants think for themselves, something that would be quite a change from the current administration at Rams Park.
Would he keep Josh McDaniels? I doubt it, but you never know. He does have one year left on his contract. That might be a case of egos being too big to work together.
One name to keep your eye on is Tennessee's current quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. He started working for Fisher in 2008 as an offensive quality control guy, becoming the QB coach last year. Vince Young had his best season under Loggains, and Jake Locker has looked good in limited action this year.
Fisher worked closely with General Manager Floyd Reese until Reese left in 2006. They had some really good drafts together. One thing Rams fans will find refreshing look back over their draft history was their ability to find starters, particularly on the offensive line, in the later rounds of the draft. Their prize catch in the later rounds was cornerback Courtland Finnegan, a seventh round pick who will be a free agent in 2012.
Drafts were more mixed after 2006, though more players from the 2007-2010 drafts are still in the league than those taken by the Rams in that same stretch. They did consistently find important contributors in the late rounds, and that's important.
"A Players Coach"
That can be a dubious title. Ostensibly, a "players coach" is one who treats the modern day superstar and their egos with a healthy bit of distance. That's a term to describe a coach who runs a more democratic locker room, someone who doesn't act like a tyrant on a daily basis. It's also a label that carries some negative connotations, as in a guy who get run over by his players.
In Fisher's case, it's given him over to some risk taking on players who wouldn't necessarily fit the "four pillars" model. The most classic example is Pacman Jones. Here's Jimmy from MCM again:
He is a player's coach. That served him well early in his career, but backfired a little later. He convinced Floyd Reese that he could handle Pacman Jones. You know how that ended. There was a little too much of the inmates running the asylum thing the last few years here, but he never lost the locker room.
Of course, the more famous incident with Fisher and a player was his handling of Vince Young.
Fisher's handling of Vince Young ultimately led to his departure in Tennessee. Young and Fisher blew up during a November game against Washington. Young had a thumb injury in the second half, and Fisher did not put him back into the game. Young lost his cool, tossed his shoulder pads into the stands on his way to the locker room. After the game, Young muttered some choice words under his breath at Fisher. And that was the end of Vince Young and Jeff Fisher in Tennessee. Neither man handled the situation like a professional.
Of course, there's plenty more subtext to the incident than that. The establishment rallied to Fisher's side, including Tony Dungy. Others were less convinced, seeing Fisher as having a larger responsibility in the incident. Young was drafted largely at the behest of Titans owner Bud Adams, or so many believe. Adams is a well-known Texans Longhorns supporter. Fisher reportedly always felt like Young, the third overall pick in 2006, was thrust on him.
Adams forced Fisher to play Young after an 0-6 start in 2009. The Titans were 8-2 after that. In 2010, they went 1-5 after that game against Washington.
Fisher's handling of Vince Young is definitely a strike against him. The lesson for the Rams is that when they make whatever changes they make, they need leaders in place who can work together.
Jon Gruden, Jeff Fisher, I'm sure this isn't the last time those names will get mentioned as possible replacements for Spagnuolo. I'm also sure that few other names will likely emerge. Stay tuned.