Eight days after word broke that he had signed a contract extension, and one day after his star running back ripped the team’s offense following a 42–14 loss, Jeff Fisher is out as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.
“Making a decision such as this—especially during the season—is one of the most difficult in sports,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said in a statement released by the team. “I have great respect for Jeff as a coach, person, father and friend. ...
“However, this is the right time to make a change as our performance has not lived up to my or our fans’ expectations. We all are focused on improving as an organization and building a team that makes Los Angeles proud. Our mission is to celebrate a Super Bowl title with our fans in Los Angeles. Today is the first step to bringing us closer to that goal.”
The Rams never really came much closer to a title under Fisher than they had under Steve Spagnuolo, the man who preceded him. Sunday’s humiliating home loss to the Falcons guaranteed that Fisher would finish below .500 for the fifth of his five seasons at the helm of the franchise. He concludes his Rams career with a mark of 31-45-1. Fisher has 165 losses for his career, tied for the most all-time in NFL history with Dan Reeves.
Expectations for this season were much higher than what Fisher delivered, after the franchise relocated from St. Louis to Los Angeles and invested heavily in the No. 1 pick at the 2016 draft, spent on QB Jared Goff. The Rams are 0–4 since Goff took over as the starter and 4–9 for the season.
“We’re just going through the motions,” RB Todd Gurley said following Sunday’s loss, via ESPN. “It looks like everybody’s just playing to get through. ... We looked like a middle-school offense out there.”
Disappointing as the start to Goff’s career has been, the Rams have to take into account his development when selecting their next coach. That may not necessarily mean hiring an offensive-minded coach to replace Fisher, but there will need to be a better plan in place than there was headed into this season. As such, general manager Les Snead remains a bit in limbo himself. It would not come as a surprise if the shoe dropped on him next.
Special teams coordinator John Fassel, son of former Giants coach Jim Fassel, will be named the interim coach for now, according to Rand Getlin. He does not figure to be in line for the permanent position.
So, who could be on the short list to replace Fisher?
Jim Harbaugh: His name will surface anytime there is an NFL opening, and especially a high-profile one like this—the Rams as a franchise have not made the playoffs since 2004, but this is still the league’s Los Angeles representation, with a new stadium on the way in 2019. Consider this an extreme long shot. From author John Bacon, whose book Endzone chronicled Michigan’s hire on Harbaugh:
Another repeat: Harbaugh didn't return to Michigan because of the money, and he's not leaving for the money.— John U. Bacon (@Johnubacon) December 12, 2016
Kyle Shanahan: The 36-year-old son of Mike Shanahan stands to be a hot commodity this off-season, if the Rams do not pounce first. Under his watch as offensive coordinator, the Falcons have unleashed a dynamic offense that currently leads the league in points and could propel Matt Ryan to an MVP award. An interesting potential subplot here, or anywhere Shanahan may move: Would Mike come with him to join the front office, potentially as general manager?
Teryl Austin/Jim Bob Cooter: Both of Detroit’s coordinators could be of interest to teams with head-coaching vacancies—Austin has been a candidate for jobs in recent years, while Cooter’s stock has skyrocketed in his year and a half orchestrating the Lions’ offense. For the Rams’ sake, should they make the Goff-Gurley duo a focal point for their new coach (as they should), Cooter would better fit the bill.
Anthony Lynn: One of the factors driving rumors of Rex Ryan’s potentially imminent firing is that the Bills have a future head coach on their staff. The 47-year-old Lynn, long a RBs coach in the NFL, was the Bills’ assistant head coach in 2015 and took over as offensive coordinator this season after Greg Roman was fired. If the Bills do follow the Rams’ plan and make an in-season coaching move, it would almost certainly be to give Lynn a test run.
Josh McDaniels/Matt Patricia: The Patriots are another team that could see both coordinators depart in the off-season. McDaniels is said to be waiting for the perfect fit before he leaps into his second stint as a head coach (could he be the Patriots coach-in-waiting if Bill Belichick contemplates retirement in the near future?). Patricia, meanwhile, interviewed for the then-vacant Browns gig last year, the first of what stands to be many calls he will receive. Again, if the plan is to build around the offense, McDaniels is the more natural fit.
Darrell Bevell: The Vikings’ offensive coordinator from 2006–10 and the Seahawks’ O.C. ever since, Bevell also has interviewed for head-coaching jobs in the past and should do so again. He has played an integral role in Russell Wilson’s development, plus he knows the NFC West inside out—not a bad bonus feature for the Rams’ consideration.
Sean McVay: Washington’s offensive coordinator has worked in lockstep with Jay Gruden to turn a Kirk Cousins-led attack into one of the NFL’s most impressive units. A note of definite relevance: McVay is just 30 years old, so franchises may pass until he banks even more experience.
Paul Chryst: Wisconsin’s surge this season has coincided with increased chatter that their coach, a QB during his playing days and formerly the Chargers’ tight ends coach, could make an NFL leap. Stanford’s David Shaw is another name that comes up constantly.