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Firing Jeff Fisher Won’t Save the Rams From 7–9

The coach might be gone, but the franchise still seems set on mediocrity

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

Here’s the last touchdown the Los Angeles Rams scored under head coach Jeff Fisher, who was fired on Monday.

Down 42–7 in the game that eliminated the Rams from playoff contention, Fisher’s coaching staff called an option play for Jared Goff, the rookie quarterback for whom Los Angeles gave up two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and two third-round picks to select with the no. 1 pick in this year’s draft. He sprinted head-first into two Falcons defenders, one of whom hit him high, and one of whom hit him low. Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum set off fireworks to celebrate the touchdown.

In the short term, it made sense. The Rams scored! Hooray! In the bigger picture, many parts of it were troubling. How could a team that spent so long sitting Goff for the sake of his development justify having him risk his body in such a meaningless situation? Why call this play down 35? Why are you down 35 in the first place?

The Goff touchdown is a lot like the firing of his first head coach. Like any touchdown at any point in time, his firing is an obvious win for the franchise. But all the things happening around these immediate successes make me wonder if anybody within the organization has any idea what’s going on.

This was Fisher’s fifth season as the Rams’ head coach, and the team has failed to reach .500 in all five.

He ends his tenure with 165 career losses, tied for the most of any coach in NFL history. That he may permanently be on the precipice of a distinction for bad coaching is fitting: Fisher’s defining tendency was his tepidity. He’d been an NFL coach for 22 of the last 23 seasons, but managed only six winning records. Meanwhile, he managed to win between six and eight games 12 times. He was never good enough to get excited about nor bad enough to get pissed at. He is an expert in passing the buck, routinely providing excuses for the team’s semi-failures. The author of Revelation was contemptuous of folks who were neither hot nor cold; he clearly didn’t run an NFL franchise.

Before the season, Fisher promised on HBO’s Hard Knocks that this year would be different. He’d been with the Rams for four years, going 7–9 twice, 7–8–1 once, and 6–10 once. But this team was better. “I’m not fucking going 7–9,” he proudly proclaimed. And he kept going, like LeBron James promising Miami eight titles: “Or 8–8. Or 9–7, or 10–6 for that matter.”

Of course, he was right: He was fired at 4–9. This Rams team was different: It wasn’t mediocre; it was awful. The Rams offense is the worst in the NFL by any reasonable metric. They’re last in basic stats like points per game, last in pace-adjusted stats like yards per play, and last in advanced stats like offensive DVOA. On Sunday, Todd Gurley, one of the most explosive running backs in recent college and NFL memory, called it a “middle school offense.” That they’ve managed to win even four games is a testament to the brilliance of their defense: No team had won a game while scoring fewer than 10 points since 2012, and the Rams have done it twice this year.

The right answer would’ve been to fire him a while ago. This season was a waste, in many ways, most of which can be traced back to Fisher. The efforts of a strong defense were counteracted by a horrendous offense. They lost a critical year for Goff’s development, as he spent most of the season benched while he learned a system that he’ll never play in again now that Fisher’s gone. And as they attempt to rebuild a fan base in Los Angeles, they were led by one of the most aggressively uninspiring people the NFL has to offer.

The wrong answer would have been to keep him past this year, but I’m somewhat surprised the team has grown the courage not to do so. Just a week ago, it appeared as if Fisher had an unbreakable grip on the Rams that would permit him to coach forever. His agent is Marvin Demoff, whose son is Rams COO Kevin Demoff. Last week, somebody leaked that Fisher had signed a contract extension with the team before the season.

The Rams chose an exceptionally middling way to fire an exceptionally middling coach. Axing him now does nothing except leave the team rudderless for its final three games. (Special teams coach John Fassel will serve as interim head coach.) The recent contract extension shows the team’s ambivalence. And worst of all, the decision to let Fisher coach most of this year allowed him to squander this season while making decisions that could mire them in mediocrity long past his firing.

His reluctance to play Goff delays the team’s understanding of whether or not he’s actually a franchise QB. The fact that the team traded away so many picks to get Goff means the next coach will have less of an opportunity to rebuild. And with the Chargers most likely moving to Los Angeles next year, fans who weren’t convinced by the first season of the Rams will now have an alternative.

The NFL’s King of Mediocrity is dead. Long live 7–9.