How Does Jeff Fisher Stay Employed?

By any reasonable standard Jeff Fisher should have been fired after last season with the St. Louis Rams. But as the franchise relocates to Los Angeles, not only has Fisher retained his job, but reports have surfaced that the Rams are actually negotiating an extension with the head coach. This is absolutely mind-boggling and begs the question of what incriminating photos Fisher has—not just of Rams higher-ups, but throughout the NFL.

Jeff Fisher is the poster child for coaching mediocrity. He got off to a fast start with the Tennessee Titans, getting to a Super Bowl in 1999 and producing some good teams from the 1999-03 period. Since then it’s been one long stretch of ho-hum play. He had a nice 13-3 season in 2008, but lost in the divisional playoffs. Overall, Fisher has been an NFL head coach for 21 seasons and has posted a winning season just six times.

In a world where Marty Schottenheimer got fired after going 14-2, where Tom Coughlin was forced out after four consecutive poor years, where Marvin Lewis is on a perpetual hot seat as he wins 10-plus games a year but folds in the playoffs, how does Jeff Fisher survive? At least one explanation (albeit a weak one) is that Fisher has mastered the art of allowing his mediocrity to slide under the radar.

He may only have six winning seasons, six playoff trips and three division titles, but Fisher’s teams are rarely terrible. On ten different occasions he’s won at least seven games. A record of 7-9 or 8-8 is the most common result for a Jeff Fisher-coached team. His worst seasons (2004-05) came right off his high point. If he has a 6-10 year, it will get balanced off by the occasional run to 10-6. His teams do just enough to tease, to make you think that pulling the plug and starting over would be unwise.

Last year was a perfect example. Fisher’s Rams were a monumental disappointment. They had playoff expectations to start the season and stumbled to a 4-8 record. Rumors of the coach’s imminent demise were swirling. I predicted to a friend that now was when Fisher’s teams usually got dangerous—once there was nothing left to play for, watch out. Sure enough, they won three straight games, including a victory over Seattle. Once again, Fisher got to 7-9.

It was reminiscent of his 2009 Titans team. They started 1-6, were left for dead and got hot. With a record of 7-7, they had a shot at the playoffs when they played what was then a good San Diego team on Christmas night. With everyone watching and the season on the line, Tennessee stunk the joint out and lost 42-17. Even so, they still finished 8-8.

There’s a part of me that understands why Fisher sticks around. Because his teams typically play hard and play good defense, they’re never terrible. When you’re rooting for a team that’s terrible (as the Rams were when Fisher got the job there four years ago), the prospect of getting to around the .500 level is appealing. If this was a consistently applied standard of success in the NFL, I could see the case for hiring Jeff Fisher.

But the standard of success that every single other coach is held to is making the playoffs. At least more than the 28.5 percent of the time that Fisher has done so in the course of his all-to-long coaching career. I mentioned Schottenheimer and Coughlin as coaches who were forced out after having done much more than Fisher. How about we add Jon Gruden? After his Super Bowl win in 2002, the current MNF analyst was let go in Tampa Bay after seven pedestrian seasons that followed, even though it included a couple more division titles.

We’re in the middle of a cultural climate that’s very anti-establishment right now and that’s playing out in the political arena. Everyone has their own definition of what that means, but is it fair to say that a head coach who’s well-connected and a member of the league’s Competition Committee consistently getting a pass for job performance that gets everyone else fired qualifies as “The Establishment”?

There are only 32 of these jobs in the world. Think of all the people everywhere, in the NFL, at the major college level, etc, that coach football. An NFL opportunity is the crème da la crème. Far too many people are being denied a chance because of some inexplicable obsession with Jeff Fisher. It’s time to cut the cord. He can go on TV and take Ron Jaworski’s job. Everyone would be better off.