Jeff Fisher just had the strangest past few days for an NFL head coach. It’s not all that surprising, since it’s been an absurd year for the Rams coach, whose team was featured on Hard Knocks this preseason. But to put his week in perspective, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer underwent emergency eye surgery on Wednesday—the day before his team played the Cowboys in primetime—and Fisher’s odd week trumps that.
Fisher—who is one loss away from ensuring his sixth-straight non-winning season, let’s not forget—had to defend himself against claims that he doesn’t want a Hall of Famer on his sidelines because said Hall of Famer was too critical of his former team. Then, the Rams chief operating officer hinted that Fisher’s job would be safe for 2017, despite his history of not winning many games. Then he had to have his team issue a statement proving he wasn’t referring to an injured Chargers player that he thought was actually on the active Patriots roster.
Individually, these instances make for your garden-variety awkwardness in the NFL soap opera. Together, they point to something else. They point to a man who seems not only unafraid to lose his job but also more certain that he’s secure in that job, even though his contract is set to run out at the end of this year.
Does Fisher know something we don’t?
Fisher has yet to deliver a winning season since signing a five-year contract with the Rams in 2012. He’s hurtling toward Dan Reeves’ all-time mark of 165 career losses, and he’s three losses shy of breaking it with the Patriots, Falcons and Seahawks all up next for the Rams on the schedule. Fisher has been a well-compensated punching bag in the league in recent years, and one of his superiors came to his defense this week.
“Everybody will want to judge [Fisher] through the prism of just the (4–7) record, but that’s totally unfair when you look at the set of circumstances he was handed this year,” Rams COO Kevin Demoff told NFL Network. “It was different than any team in the NFL.”
Indeed, no coach has had to deal with uprooting an NFL franchise and moving to the second-largest market in the country. That is different, and we all know that. But in case we didn’t, Fisher wanted to emphasize that this week.
“We’ve been through a lot. It’s not an excuse, but we’ve been through more than any other team in the National Football League this off-season and the moves and the travel and all those things,” Fisher told reporters. “We’re dealing with those as best we can.”
Demoff’s defense of Fisher this week served as a reminder that Demoff’s father is Fisher’s agent. In the small NFL world, these occasional instances raise ethical issues, but then again it’s not like anyone’s asking Fisher to divest in businesses before taking public office or anything.
Then came the he-said, he-said between Fisher and Rams great Eric Dickerson about whether Fisher told the Hall of Famer he didn’t want him on the sideline following his criticism. Dickerson aired out their spat—with some inconsistencies—this week and promised to never go back to a Rams game so long as Fisher is the coach.
Dickerson has been critical of the Rams on radio in recent weeks, as any objective observer would be since the Rams have won just four games this season. Fisher may believe Dickerson crossed the line but, again, it’s not like he’s a public official trying to quell public speech by a dissident or anything.
And finally this week, on a conference call with Patriots reporters, Fisher appeared to refer to injured San Diego running back Danny Woodhead as being a member of the Patriots, which hasn’t been the case since 2012. The Rams issued a reasonable statement shortly after the teleconference explaining Fisher meant Danny Amendola, but the jokes had already spread.
The latter instance is simply funny (because it’s not like he’s an elected official saying something blatantly false with no regard for the truth), but the first two situations present a man who has no fear in his current role. If he knew he only had five more games left to coach, perhaps he wouldn’t worry about what Dickerson is saying about his team on the radio. And perhaps the COO wouldn’t have to defend his coach to the media.
These actions feel like those of a man who is confident that he will coach the Los Angeles Rams in 2017. Perhaps the ink has dried and he and the Rams are waiting on the right opportunity to announce it. But what happens to the fan base you tried so hard to energize if you tell them, at 4–7 with 4–10 staring you in the face, that you’re bringing back Fisher for another one of these seasons? How does a locker room react to that knowledge at the beginning of December with no realistic shot of making the postseason?
It seems as though Fisher does indeed know something we don’t yet, and that for some cosmic reason he will retain his job.
But this crazy week has certainly shown us what we’ve known all along: This is some real 7–9 bulls***.