It has been a week since Jeff Fisher was introduced as head coach of the St. Louis Rams, and the question seems inescapable.
Was he chosen because of his record or because of his experience?
For most coaches coming off the firing line, that is not an important distinction. Typically, whether or not they won enough in an earlier stop, the fact that they actually sat in the big office and made the tough calls means something to those doing the hiring.
Fisher, of course, did all of that for the 16-plus seasons he was in charge of the Oilers/Titans. He won enough for some, not often enough for others. He took his team to the Super Bowl once and fought with a petulant quarterback on numerous occasions.
None of those things are particularly unique in the spectrum of NFL head coaching experiences.
Yet there is one thing that sets him apart and makes him look like the perfect fit for the Rams.
Fisher guided a team through a transition from one city to another, a process that — in the Titans’ case — included four different home stadiums in as many seasons. One of those stadiums was roughly 200 miles from the practice facility.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke has not said that he plans to move the team to Los Angeles, but he also has not said that he won’t do so. In fact, when asked about the franchise’s long-term future during Fisher’s introductory press conference, Kroenke’s response was “we’ll see how that process works out.”
That process includes a provision in the team’s lease with St. Louis that allows the Rams to leave after the 2014 season based on certain criteria connected to the Edward Jones Dome.
In other words, the Rams might be on the move in the not-too-distant future. Now they have the one guy in the NFL with firsthand experience in such a circumstance — someone who knows beforehand where potential problems lie, someone who can anticipate his players’ needs (personally and professionally), someone who knows how to deal with the distractions, because he’s done so once already.
I’ve always maintained that it’s the five 8-8 seasons on his record that make Fisher’s merit such a compelling topic to debate. His advocates can say that in 16 full seasons he had a losing record only five times — and they are correct. His detractors can say that he had a winning record just six times in those 16 seasons — and they are correct.
Regardless, the last two 8-8s were widely viewed as failures because they included terrible starts (0-5 in 2006 and 0-6 in 2009) that featured some woeful football.
On the other hand, the first three, which came in succession, generally were regarded as some kind of triumph because he managed to keep the team competitive as it played in the almost-empty Astrodome (1996), the almost-empty Liberty Bowl (1997) and the incredibly tiny, by NFL standards, yet not-always-sold-out Vanderbilt Stadium (1998).
It is a popular notion around the NFL that head coaches tend to better in their second assignment than in their first. Exhibit A for anyone who subscribes to that theory is New England’s Bill Belichick, who was decidedly underwhelming in five years with Cleveland.
If Fisher’s experience allows him to handle the transition even better this time, then Kroenke arrives with a winning team, which makes it a heck of a lot easier to sell tickets.
It just seems likely that Kroenke was not looking for someone to take his team to the Super Bowl. He simply wanted someone who could help him take the team to Los Angeles.