A couple weeks back, TST writers converged on the topic of Jeff Fisher's and Les Snead's perceived job security, and I was a little surprised at how many called this a "make or break season" for the pair. Putting aside whatever urgency we as fans feel ought to be appropriate for this franchise, the power structure of the Rams makes it pretty clear that Fisher's job security is extremely safe.
This view was underscored by a little featurette from NFL.com writer Conor Orr, who writes that Fisher is one of five "untouchable" coaches in the league.
In 20 years as a head coach, Fisher has one Super Bowl appearance, and three division titles. He is 15 games over .500. These numbers consistently place him in the overrated category, but Fisher has some of the most pronounced longevity in the game.
Orr pivots rather blithely from calling Fisher "overrated" to completely dismissing any concerns about his future here.
The future looks bright, and no one is talking about another coach to see the Rams to the next level.
The characterization is correct: Fisher is indeed one of the most securely-situated coaches in the league. But Orr misses the reason why: because Stan Kroenke likes it that way.
The word "untouchable" in this context is another way of saying "unfireable," but the word has another, more potent connotation. In the Elliott Ness meaning of the word, untouchable meant "incorruptible," wholly insulated from any outside influence, even from one's superiors.
In Stan Kroenke's organization, Jeff Fisher is truly untouchable in a way that most other NFL coaches can only dream of.
Fisher's Historic Accumulation of Power
For most of his fifteen-plus years in Houston and Tennessee, Jeff Fisher was treated with princely regard by the team's mercurial and now deceased owner Bud Adams. Like a more stentorian Al Davis, Adams simply gave Fisher the directive to win, and sat back and enjoyed the result from his owner's box as the Titans went on a multi-year playoff run in the AFC Central. However, that relationship started to fall apart in the fallow years after that playoff run ended, as Adams started meddling directly in football affairs, causing kerfuffles around quarterbacks (Exhibit A: Vince Young) and assistant coaches (Exhibit B: Jim Washburn). The latter caused Fisher and Adams to "mutually part ways" in 2010.
In the epic 2012 offseason bidding war for Jeff Fisher's services, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was more than willing to match checkbooks with Missouri's favorite Wal-Mart billionaire. But Ross was unwilling to match Kroenke in one crucial aspect: control. Ross would have forced Fisher to be an employee of the owner's hand-picked GM, which is the norm in the NFL. (In this case, that would have meant working for colossal boob Jeff Ireland, a double-whammy.)
In Kroenke's final pitch, he gave Fisher carte blanche. Complete freedom to hire his own GM, and a bottomless checkbook to build his assistant coaching staff with. Complete freedom to empty the building at One Rams Park if he so desired, with salary cap man Kevin Demoff perhaps the only exception. Among NFL coaches, perhaps only Bill Belichick and Chip Kelly have accumulated so much power.
But beyond that, Kroenke went an extra step, all but promising to stay out of the way and let Fisher be the king of this roost. After all, the Rams are just one team in his portfolio, and not even the crown jewel at that.
Thus, Demoff is arguably the only person in the building not entirely beholden to Fisher for his or her presence. And with young Demoff being the son of Fisher's agent Martin Demoff, it's tough to see how he could apply any real leverage.
So with no one in the building to contest Fisher's power, the only conceivable way to heat up his seat would be through a grass-roots organization of fed-up fans. But with Kroenke actively turning his back on the Saint Louis fanbase, no number of torches and pitchforks (real or metaphorical) is likely to be enough to get his attention, or force his hand.
(Now Los Angeles fans, on the other hand...)
Fisher's History as a Slow-burn Team-builder
In return for his unprecedented level of control, Fisher essentially promised Kroenke stability.
We all know Fisher's well-established track record. Before coming to St Louis, his teams had only suffered five losing seasons in fifteen years. (Critics will rightly point out a huge number of 8-8 teams.) Fisher also had a ready rolodex of experienced assistants, and could populate his staff quickly.
He also has the experience of building up a team from nearly nothing into a playoff contender. In Houston and Tennessee, that meant four seasons of wallowing through the muck and accumulating talent before exploding into a run of playoff seasons.
Giving a one or two-game margin of error, Fisher is on the same track again here. That hews close enough to his own established performance record that few if any of Kroenke's feathers are ruffled. Massive wins over the Colts and Broncos in consecutive years no doubt help.
What we don't know is whether to expect the same results from this team-building effort. And if (when) Kroenke succeeds in his primary goal -- getting his team into the Los Angeles market -- then Fisher's on-field results or lack of them might get a lot more scrutiny. Ironically, that should be right when his core of talent is finally ready to peak.
Until that time comes, Fisher is untouchable as they come.