Jeff Fisher doesn't have the most sparkling resume as an NFL head coach.
After taking over the Houston Oilers midway through the 1994 season, Fisher coached that franchise for the next 16 seasons overseeing their relocation to Tennessee and producing just six winning seasons throughout. In three of the postseasons following those six winning seasons, his team lost their first playoff game. Fisher made one Super Bowl appearance, Super Bowl XXXIV, in which his Tennessee Titans lost to the St. Louis Rams.
In his four years with the St. Louis Rams, he was unable to produce a winning season. He is the second coach since the AFL merger to produce zero winning seasons in his first four with a team and not be fired; the other, David Shula, was fired seven games into his fifth season coaching the Cincinnati Bengals.
And yet, he has his supporters among Rams fans, fans who are willing to tolerate losing and failure and excuses and shifted blame and continually point toward some hypothetical point over the horizon to justify all of it.
They don't have much common support in the national media.
In a ranking of all 32 NFL head coaches over at USA Today, Fisher comes in almost inexplicably at #22:
How does this guy still have a job? People complain about Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, but at least he gets his teams to the playoffs. Fisher hasn’t produced a winning record in seven years. The offense has been dreadful during his run and the defense, which has been loaded with talent, has underachieved.
There's a pretty clear disconnect between Steven Ruiz's blurb and Fisher's ranking, but let's not gripe. Instead, let's just recognize why Fisher's at 22 instead of lower.
He is the embodiment of the NFL.
He's a gritty former player turned coach from a big school (USC) in a big market (Los Angeles) who eschews the city identity for a more rural persona (see: stories about fishing and cameos in random country music videos). His teams are physical bordering on "dirty" (though opposing fan bases would certainly suggest they cross that border). He's well liked throughout the league, by media and by his players. He does the things off the field as well as any head coach in football.
That fishing story, a fluff piece from Sports Illustrated's Austin Murphy, clarifies where Fisher's skill set as a coach is greatest:
His true strength is forging bonds, building trust, making the pros feel a little like college. Then, when the roster is right and the system is in place, be patient. Good things will happen.
I don't know that any fan base is going to get excited over the patience required to produce a winning season once every three and half years and then lose the one playoff game it earns you more often than not, but here we are.
When the staff got together to discuss whether or not we thought Jeff Fisher should be fired late last season (and if you want to see how people can possibly support Fisher's tenure, check the comments on that one), I abstained. Nothing had changed, and it felt strange to me at that point to suggest firing him since (a) there was nothing he did in 2015 to warrant being fired that he hadn't done in previous seasons and (b) it wasn't going to happen anyway.
Back in March when Ron Jaworski trashed Fisher as a head coach, I broke down the four eras that define his 21 seasons as a head coach and the allure of Fisherball.
So I get why he gets ranked 22nd or 18th especially when his friendly demeanor with media "tends to keep the criticism of his team to a minimum" (and that's a quote from an article at nfl.com, not some disreputable or anonymous platform...).
But as Rams fans, we should just be honest with ourselves and where we are as a franchise: hoping to strike gold on one of those rare seasons when Fisherball produces...and wondering how a newborn Los Angeles fan base will react if it doesn't.
(UPDATED at 11:23am ET by 3k)
I meant to include this read on Fisher from Doug Farrar over at Sports Illustrated somewhere in the above. It's a good preseason national media summary of where Fisher stands (thought not necessarily where he should).