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How Bad Of A Coach Is Jeff Fisher? Depends On What You Expect From Him.

Is Jeff Fisher a "bad" coach? What is "bad"?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Bate dropped referenced it in this AM's Random Ramsdom, but I thought it merits its own thread.

If you missed it, former Los Angeles Rams QB and current ESPN NFL Analyst Ron Jaworski had some relatively blunt comments on San Diego's Mighty 1090:

[Jeff Fisher] is an awful coach. He's a terrible coach. He would have been fired by 30 teams years ago and struggling to get back in this league.

If you can't develop a quarterback in the National Football League, you can't be a winning, consistent head coach. Jeff Fisher went to one Super Bowl. He's never been a consistent, winning coach. And he's never developed a quarterback outside of Steve McNair, and Steve was not, he came in with a lot of ability and certainly, I do not think he was the guy that did it.

But when you look at what that Rams offense was a year ago, it was disgusting. It was terrible. They were firing coaches. They were firing players. They had no idea what they were doing on offense.

That's not a great coach.


A couple of years ago, I thought this team had the chance to be the Rams formidable defense of the Fearsome Foursome. You know, [Chris] Long is gone. All these guys are gone. This defense has been a disaster as well.

You know, they had talent. They had a decent window. They had draft choices. Nothing positive has happened.

Yeah, they get a win every once in a while against Seattle. They get a big win against Arizona. But when you look at a team that plays as inconsistent as the Los Angeles Rams...

In the interest of trying to figure out if Jeff Fisher is a bad or "awful" coach, I think it's more important to try to assess where his floor is and where his ceiling is and why. And I think the best way perhaps of doing that is looking at the four periods that have defined his head coaching career and what that indicates re: his ceiling and floor and how much his philosophy determines that.

The Early Years: 1994-1998 (32-38, .457)

Fisher's ascent through the NFL coaching ranks took a decade. A tutelage period under Buddy Ryan in Chicago and Philadelphia saw him rejoin his head coach from his playing days at USC in John Robinson with the Los Angeles Rams in 1991 as defensive coordinator. After a two-year stint with the San Francisco 49ers, Fisher joined the Houston Oilers staff in 1994 (replacing his mentor Buddy Ryan who had been ousted at DC) under Head Coach Jack Pardee, the Los Angeles Rams' second-round pick in the 1957 NFL Draft. A 1-9 start in '94 saw Pardee exit and Jeff Fisher take over for his first head coaching gig.

The 1994 Houston Oilers would finish 2-14 as Warren Moon had been traded to the Minnesota Vikings. Fisher led them to a limping 1-5 record to close out the season, the first season with the NFL's new salary cap implemented in an attempt to ensure parity and competitiveness across the league (along with an equitable pay structure for the labor pool). That lousy record awarded the third overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft to the Oilers, a pick they used on Alcorn State QB Steve McNair.

McNair was brought along slowly in his first two years as the Oilers put up a 7-9 and 8-8 pair of seasons in 1995 and 1996 adding RB Eddie George to the offensive makeover through the 1996 NFL Draft.

The franchise moved to Nashville for the 1997 season, McNair's first as a full-time starter. In the first two years, the Tennessee Oilers (a name they would keep until the 1999 season) went 8-8...and 8-8.

The Steve McNair Years: 1999-2005 (65-47, .580)

Jeff Fisher's fifth full year as the Oilers'/Titans' head coach, McNair's third as the full-time starter, saw everything fall into place.

The Titans drafted DE Jevon Kearse with the first round pick to immediate acclaim, and everything fell together...except for the final yard they needed to win Super Bowl XXXIV instead of the St. Louis Rams.

That 1999 season kicked off Fisher's best five-year run of his career in which the Titans made the playoffs four times and compiled a 56-24 record.

McNair would suffer through an injury-plagued 2004 and 2005 was no better as the Titans went 9-23. The defense had turned into one of the worst in the NFL

The Vince Young Years: 2006-2010 (45-35, .562)

Drafting Vince Young with the third pick in the 2006 NFL Draft reoriented the offense, but the defense was still a huge disappointment giving up the second most points and the most yards in 2006.

Fisher got it fixed.

In 2007 and 2008, the Titans' defense was a top 10 unit leading a pedestrian offense that saw them reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons and go 23-9 in the regular season. Things quickly fell apart, though, and 2009 and 2010 saw the Titans' defense regress and head back to familiar territory for Fisher going 14-18 in his final two seasons as Tennessee's head coach.

The Rams Years: 2012-? (27-36-1, .422)

We know the deal here.

A remake of a failed Rams era preceding his arrival, Fisher has overhauled the team through the Robert Griffin III trade in the 2012 NFL Draft that stocked the Rams' cupboard with top draft picks for three successive years.

Those draft picks and the free agent moves that overhauled nearly the entire roster in four years led to exactly 0 more wins in year four than they did in year one.

Overall: 1994-2010, 2012-? (169-156-1, .518)

At the outset, I sought to define Fisher's ceiling and floor.

I think the floor's certainly easier to identify. In the 20 full seasons he's been head coach, only two of his teams have finished with less than six wins.

That makes it hard to qualify Fisher as a "bad" coach.

Of course the problem is, he's had so many middling seasons, you can't really put him anywhere near a top tier. Just six of those 20 seasons saw Fisher's teams finish with a winning record. That means 12 of Jeff Fisher-coached team seasons finished between six and nine wins.

That is the eternal paradox of Fisherball.

It's rarely going to be bad. He instills a physicality into his teams on both sides of the ball that punish their way to victory often enough.

It's also rarely going to be very good. His offenses are never dynamic enough to hold up in the modern NFL and inconsistencies on defense (due to overaggressiveness both as it related to play style and penalties) too often give easy points to even weaker opposition.

Ron Jaworski isn't necessarily wrong though. It's not that Jeff Fisher is terrible at getting his teams to win. He's terrible at getting people to realize the range of his team's success.

And that's perhaps the problem. People are still assuming Fisherball has the same range of success or failure as other teams. Just this week, we got a coaches ranking at Rotoworld that placed Jeff Fisher 18th among all NFL head coaches -- a fair ranking.

The problem is, the write-up falls into the same alluring trap that Fisherball always offers:

Give Jeff Fisher this: His teams have an identity. Of course, that identity includes contemptible penalties, inexplicable losses and an inexhaustible supply of excuses, but it’s stunning when you stop and think about how few coaches truly impose their will on their players. Fisher’s teams play aggressive, swarming defense and ... uhh, something that occasionally resembles football on offense. But Fisher, six seasons removed from his most recent winning campaign, might finally have the offensive counterbalance to his ever potent defense. Todd Gurley is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson, and appears ready to be the league's top runner as early as this season. If Gurley shines as a sophomore, Fisher might somehow, someway get the last laugh on a football intelligentsia that’s made a weekly habit of writing his obituary.

One pullquote from that, emphasis mine:

Fisher, six seasons removed from his most recent winning campaign, might finally have the offensive counterbalance to his ever potent defense

That's what Fisherball does. It muddles reality into a paste, shoves it through a sieve and smears it on stained glass. What seems close to reality isn't.

He's six years removed from a winning season.

That offensive counterbalance he got in Todd Gurley who was as good as you could possibly have expected? He headlined the league's worst offense.

If you stay away from Fisherball long enough, from the outside there's enough to like to assume that at some point it all comes together.

From the inside, you've died a thousand deaths before ever getting there to the point that it's just not worth it to wait it out.

That's what's terrible.