The year started off well enough for the Rams. The owner got the green light to move to Los Angeles. After three tries, the Rams finally, maybe found their franchise quarterback, Jared Goff, and traded away a bundle of draft picks get him. Most exciting of all, head coach Jeff Fisher proclaimed on premium cable for all the world to see that he “was NOT fucking going 7-9 ... or 8-8 ... or 9-7, OK?”
It finally was one excuse too many. The Rams fired him on Monday, Dec. 12, a day after a loss to the Falcons.
It’s turned out to be a tough season for Fisher and the Rams; the first week of December was the worst of it so far. Sean Payton and the Saints gave them a revenge game beatdown, a public fight with the team’s most prominent alumni left Fisher looking petty, and a conference call in which Fisher didn’t seem to know who the Patriots running backs were.
Yet, somehow, the Rams still came out in support of their head coach. COO Kevin Demoff spent that week parroting the team’s party line on Fisher, that it’s unfair to judge him by his record. They’re paying him $7 million per year to not be judged by his perpetually mediocre results.
The Rams’ team headquarters was such a judgment-free zone that the Rams gave Fisher a two-year contract extension earlier this season, one that will pay him $7 million in 2017 and $9 million in 2018. The deal was done as part of the move to Los Angeles.
Nothing new for Teflon Fisher. He’s coached 22 years with only six winning seasons and two losses away from having more than any other head coach in NFL history. When a nuclear explosion rids the world of humanity, there will only be Jeff Fisher organizing a group of 53 cockroaches into a 7-9 insect football team.
How does he do it? How did he hold a job for so long in the NFL?
For one, there’s the well-established theory that he’s a stooge for league interests. But that’s not giving him enough credit. Jeff Fisher may not be a very good football coach, but he is an outstanding excuse maker.
In an interview on Fox on Sunday, Dec. 18, Fisher stood pat on his position. He noted the offense didn’t score enough points, they didn’t win enough games and he was out. He took some measure of responsibility for that.
Fisher also made sure to point out the revolving list of quarterbacks the team had under his watch as part of the problem. He failed to mention that he had “final say” on personnel.
Let’s revisit his excuses from this season.
Week 14 vs. Falcons
A 42-14 loss in which Todd Gurley called the team a “middle school offense” probably didn’t portend well for Fisher. He didn’t even have much of an excuse to make. We should’ve seen it.
This loss tied with Dan Reeves for the all-time record. Now, he won’t get to make that happen with the Rams.
Week 13 vs. Patriots
The bar is so low that a 26-10 loss to the Patriots didn’t feel at all unusual or even especially remarkable by Fisher’s standards. He stood by a familiar excuse.
"We had a lot going on this offseason, a lot of stuff going on." @CVRamsClub— Joe Curley (@vcsjoecurley) December 4, 2016
He offered up injuries as an excuse at his Monday press conference the day after the game. The best part is that, like a middle school kid caught sticking gum underneath the lab tables in science class, he prefaced his excuse by saying he doesn’t make excuses.
“Coaches, we don’t like making excuses, we just move on from week to week to week,” and before he could take his next breath, he offered up an excuse. “We didn’t have Rob Quinn, we didn’t have Tavon Austin, we didn’t have Rodger Saffold yesterday and we played the New England Patriots. If you’re going to have a chance to beat them, you need to go in there with all hands on deck.”
Week 12 vs. Saints
It was a 49-21 thrashing at the hands of the Saints in Week 12 that started a bad week for Fisher. That one wasn’t Fisher’s fault for two reasons.
First, an old familiar one:
“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 offseason and the moves and the travel and all those things. We’re dealing with those as best we can.”
"They had an extra three or four days to prepare for us, having played last Thursday night," Fisher said.
Strangely enough, there is actual data to suggest the advantage the Saints had, the one that Fisher claims excuses the loss, is not an advantage at all.
Week 11 vs Dolphins
The Rams actually had a 10-0 lead over the Dolphins until the last four minutes of the game. It looked like Goff was going to get a win in his long-awaited season debut. But alas ...
You see, Fisher knows they needed to make more downfield shots, but the refs made it impossible!
“There was constant pressure. The coverage didn’t allow it. We had some shots. He (Goff) made a good throw to (WR) Kenny (Britt), and we didn’t come up with the ball. We would’ve liked to have seen pass interference called on that play, which is a field position change.”
It’s pretty amazing that a long-time member of the league’s competition committee can get away with blaming the refs as often as he does.
Week 9 vs. Panthers
The officials were part of the problem again in a 10-13 loss to Carolina, too.
“Yeah, statistically, we had 10, I would acknowledge maybe six of them,” the coach said.
Penalties and Fisher go hand in hand. The Rams have committed more penalties than any other team since hiring Fisher in 2012. The fact that they continually have a young team is something that Fisher likes to hold up as an excuse as well.
But it wasn’t just the refs. Mother Nature screwed over Fisher’s Rams, too.
A missed touchdown throw happened because of the sun.
“But no excuse...the sun was in his face. He turned back around, vision’s obscured a little bit. The head came around, the ball was there, and he just couldn’t finish the play.”
He even put the blame on his defense, a unit that allowed a measly 13 points in that outing.
“You know, you can’t ever say your defense is playing good enough to win, because they can always play better. So that’s what we’ve been stressing.”
Week 7 vs. Giants (London)
Mother Nature wasn’t to blame for this one, but the facilities in London were clearly a problem Fisher’s team couldn’t overcome.
On his radio show, Fisher said Keenum lost a TD pass to Quick in London because pass hit the skycam cable. @CVRamsClub #NFLUK— Joe Curley (@vcsjoecurley) November 8, 2016
Traveling to London is no quick hop. Fisher brought out his standard chestnut to excuse his team’s play after a trans-Atlantic flight.
Jet lag, travel, adjusting to the time change. “That’s the hard part of international games.” Fisher had that one in the bag.
He even triaged his next excuse, saying in the same breath that it’s tough to prepare for your next opponent coming off an international game. Never mind that teams are 19-10-1 after losing in London.
Go back a week earlier and Fisher was talking up how well-prepared they were to play in London. They adjusted their meeting times, moved around their schedule and took extra precautions to prepare for the time difference.
“So, that’s not a concern of mine,” Fisher said.
Week 6 vs. Lions
AND he said earlier that they’d be prepping for it since the offseason. That was his excuse for losing to the Lions the week before.
“This will be our first experience traveling three time zones, and kicking the ball off at 10 a.m. our time (PT). That in itself is a challenge. The statistics over the last five years, they don’t reflect a great deal of success when the West Coast teams are playing the 1:00 (ET) games on the East Coast. Those are things you talk to them about. So, we adjust our schedules a little bit. Not that that can be an excuse, but hey, you know, the approach needs to be, and it is with us, is whenever they tell us show up and play, we’re going to play.”
I’m starting to think that Jeff Fisher might not be all that great at preparing for anything. Shocking, I know.
Week 5 vs. Bills
This time it was a rash of injuries to his defensive linemen that contributed to a 30-19 loss.
#Rams "We don’t make excuses, but 3 of our starting 4 starting defensive linemen were watching the game today." Jeff Fisher after loss— Liz Habib (@LizHabib) October 10, 2016
That he consistency prefaces his excuses with bullshit like “we don’t make excuses” is testament to his brazenness. He sucks, and he knows it. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT???
Fisher didn’t just have excuses for the loss. He found himself defending terrible coaching decisions, too.
Down by a touchdown with five minutes to play, the Rams kicked a field goal instead of going for a touchdown.
"The reason for the points was I was playing to win," Fisher said. "We had plenty of time and had three timeouts left. So take the points, get a kickoff, get a drive stop on defense, go down and a touchdown wins the game for you."
Later in the game, with desperation setting in, Fisher pulled out one of his tried-and-true trick plays. The fake punt later got blown up, but that was because the crowd noise tipped it off ... crowd noise from the home crowd in Los Angeles!
"I like the look, I like the play. We got the look and they made the play. I think their outside guy made the play. He stopped coverage when he heard the crowd roar, so he came back and made the play."
One of Fisher’s own players accidentally called bullshit on that excuse.
“As far as the crowd, I can’t speak to that,” said Bradley Marquez, who acknowledged an opponent for correctly identifying the play.
“He sniffed it out and was able to set the edge,” Marquez said.
Week 1 vs. 49ers
And who could forget how all of this season’s “7-and-9 bullshit” started, with a 28-0 shutout by the 49ers.
Jeff Fisher credited SF. I asked how team could play so poorly w/ 7 months to prepare. Said no excuses but added team moved 4x in 7 months.— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) September 13, 2016
I could go back through every terrible season Fisher’s coached the Rams and find the excuses for each and every loss. You know they’re coming as soon as the clock hits 0:00. It’s part of the 7-and-9 ethos.
I do want to take a minute to run through some of Fisher’s meta excuses for the Rams’ terrible play since moving back to Los Angeles, though some of these go all the way back to their time in St. Louis.
The “7-and-9 bullshit” excuse
Fisher did himself a disservice when he ramped up the expectations with his famous Hard Knocks speech about “not fucking going 7-and-9.” He gets asked about it now, too. And you better believe he has an excuse for that.
“I don’t,” Fisher responded when he was asked last week if he regretted saying that.
“We’d had a couple issues in camp like you normally do that I thought were counter- productive, and I had to get my point across to the players,” he continued.
“Everybody’s kind of sinking their teeth into that, and that’s fine. But you know unless you’re here in the building, you really don’t know what’s going on. And we got a good thing going as far as the future’s concerned. We’re building this team to be competitive for the future.”
Okay, let’s put aside how laughable that is. Think about Fisher’s excuse and the players. He’s using the record talk to make a point to the players, but he’s undercutting himself by revealing that he only said it to make a point.
He didn’t really mean that he wasn’t fucking going 7-and-9 ... or 8-and-8 ... or 9-and-7.” He just wanted the players to know that he wouldn’t put up with any hijinks by telling them that, but it’s OK to go 7-and-9, in Fisher’s mind.
The roster/quarterback excuse
You have to give Fisher some credit. He inherited a terrible team. There wasn’t much talent on the roster, and the Rams were coming off a 2-14 season. It’s probably a minor miracle that they did manage to go 7-8-1 in 2012, Fisher’s first season.
And there was hope for better days ahead. Before the 2012 NFL draft, the Rams traded the second pick to Washington for a haul that included a boatload of draft picks, high-draft picks.
It was the kind of deal that remakes a team overnight, the kind of thing that sets up a dynasty in the NFL.
Not for the Rams. Take a look at the players they received over the years for that trade, and think about where they are now.
Since this will again be a big storyline this week, here's a full breakdown of "the trade." pic.twitter.com/fC6OmXHOoD— Casey Pearce (@ccpearce) September 15, 2015
Janoris Jenkins was the best player of the bunch, and they let him walk in free agency this season. He’s one of five players acquired from that trade who aren’t even with the team anymore.
Michael Brockers is a starting defensive tackle, but not the kind of regular Pro Bowler you expect from a first-round pick. Ditto linebacker Alec Ogletree. Greg Robinson might be the worst of the bunch, an unmitigated draft bust who was supposed to be the team’s left tackle of the future. He got benched last week against New Orleans, and the Rams offensive line was actually better.
General manager Les Snead, who was widely hailed for his acumen following this year, also got an extension to keep drafting subpar players for the Rams, feeding Fisher’s physics-defying perpetual excuse machine.
To make matters worse, the Rams failed to learn from their mistakes in that trade and shipped off a bevy of picks to move up and draft Goff this year.
The roster is one of those things holding back Jeff Fisher, says Jeff Fisher.
“I’m not pleased with where we are right now. Each year, each roster is different,” he said after last week’s loss to the Saints.
“We took over a 2-14 team and we built it, we were competitive. We’ve had quarterback issues –- you guys can do the math, you know how many different quarterbacks we’ve played with. We’ve moved on, we’re moving forward with Jared. We’ve got a roster that we need to continue to upgrade. I’m disappointed with the record. I don’t think anybody really knows what we’ve been going through, but I’m in to this week, I’m in to the Patriots.”
Let’s pause for a moment to consider those “quarterback issues.” Fisher’s had his chances to settle on a franchise quarterback in the years since taking this job. He’s blown it every time.
Fisher took the job, in part, because of the presence of Sam Bradford. Injuries and the prospects of a hefty contract had the Rams moving on from Bradford, trading him to the Eagles for Nick Foles.
Foles was supposed to be their franchise quarterback, according to Fisher. Then it was Case Keenum. Hell, Keenum was so valuable to the Rams that they put a first-round tender on him when he was a restricted free agent this spring.
The Rams have quarterback problems because Fisher made them. He’s been excusing the results of his team’s play because of the quarterback then promising the next one as THE GUY for years. This post from Turf Show Times is essential reading for a deeper insight into how Fisher’s managed and talked up the team’s QB struggles.
And now it’s Goff’s turn to be the guy.
It doesn’t matter who his quarterback is, he’s going to lose or be mediocre at best.
Jeff Fisher's record broken out by starting QB.— Will McDougle (@12thManInNC) November 29, 2016
-Found on Reddit.. and it is amazing. pic.twitter.com/IrZHkKi6tP
The moving excuse
Fisher knew when he was hired in 2012 that relocation was at the top of owner Stan Kroenke’s agenda. Winning has never been Kroenke’s primary concern. Plus, Fisher’s done this before.
“You can’t let it become an excuse,” Fisher said of the relocation process. “We’ve taken the approach that it doesn’t matter where you play or what time or who you play, you just have to go out and play, and that’s what they bought in to.”
The young team excuse
This is sort of an ancillary excuse, but one Fisher regularly trots out to justify the smattering of boneheaded penalties or other missed plays his team so consistently gets tripped up by.
He wasn’t having any of that in the 2014 offseason.
"Because of the fact that we have players now in their third year and guys last year in their second, they’re familiar faces, they’ve matured, they have the playing experience," Fisher said. "So despite the age on paper, the team doesn’t act that way. The team acts much more mature and will be much more prepared.”
And what about some of the reputation making plays? These are the cheap shots, the attempts to injure opposing players that Fisher’s teams have developed a well-earned reputation for over the years.
Last year, Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner went after Teddy Bridgewater with a nasty late hit that left him with a concussion in a Rams’ overtime loss in Week 9.
"Lamarcus made a decision to go hit the quarterback prior to Teddy initiating the slide," Fisher said. "That's what happens. Had Lamarcus not made helmet contact with him, there would have not been a foul. It was penalized on the field. What more can you ask for?"
That overlooks the fact that Joyner is four yards away when Bridgewater goes into his slide. He launched himself anyway.
This season in that Week 6 loss to the Lions, the Rams defense did one of the dirtiest tricks in the book, hitting an opponent on a kneel down at the end of the game. It’s what former Bucs coach Greg Schiano pulled a few times and got excoriated by his peers and everyone else across the league.
You’ll be surprised to know that it wasn’t Fisher’s fault either.
“This approach did not come from the sideline,” Fisher said. “It was not a call. It was not something that we practiced, or that we preach. I think it was a byproduct of frustration, some things that Aaron [Donald] endured during the game, and the players took it on themselves to do it.”
That statement is fascinating for the layers it has to it. Not only is Fisher excusing himself and his coaches (never mind that coaches are expected to have some control over how their players act on the field), he’s also shifting the blame from his players to the opponents and the officials with that line about “some things that Aaron endured during the game.”
Front office feuding
With criticism snowballing, Fisher took a very public shot at the general manager and the personnel department, a department which supposedly has final say over.
It’s got ugly, and he left the Rams with no choice but to fire him.
I would encourage you to try some of these excuses yourself at work this week, modified to fit whatever industry it is you serve. Remember to throw out the “not to make excuses” caveat when you do. That way the boss will for sure know that you’re not making an excuse.
Then again, maybe you shouldn’t whip out the old Jeff Fisher excuse machine. Just because it got him a two-year contract extension that pays him as much or more than most of the NFL’s recent Super Bowl winning coaches doesn’t mean you’ll have the same fortune.