Jeff Fisher's Mediocrity Wasting St. Louis Rams Team Loaded with Young Talent

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 18, 2015

St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher roams the field before the start of an NFL football game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)
L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

There's a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the St. Louis Rams right now. There is an unsettled situation at quarterback and the very real possibility the team's days in the Gateway City are numbered.

Yet one thing at least appears certain: head coach Jeff Fisher isn't going anywhere.

And so long as that is the case, neither is a Rams team loaded with young talent.

That young talent was on display in Thursday's 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Rookie running back Todd Gurley became the third player in the NFL to top 1,000 yards on the season, picking up 79 total yards and a touchdown.

As Andrew Siciliano of the NFL Network tweeted, that feat is all the more impressive given that Gurley got a late start:

Andrew Siciliano @AndrewSiciliano

Todd Gurley’s 1,000 yards is even more impressive when you consider he didn’t start for the Rams until Week 4.

Wide receiver Tavon Austin continued his breakout third season, piling up 73 total yards and scoring touchdowns on both a 17-yard pass and a 21-yard run.

And in doing so, Austin entered some truly rarefied air:

Randall Liu @RLiuCBS

Tavon Austin is 1st player with 4+ rush TDs, 5+ rec TDs & PR-TD in a single season since Gale Sayers in 1965 https://t.co/luRgN00C2u

Then there's defensive tackle Aaron Donald, one of last year's first-round picks:


4th and 1. Doug Martin meets Aaron Donald. Uh oh. #TBvsSTL https://t.co/stLyRTIasv


Leading into Thursday's matchup, Tampa offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter had some heady praise for Donald while speaking with Chris Wesseling of NFL.com:

Extremely. Extremely (disruptive). Our scouting department scouts teams a couple of weeks in advance, and they told me that he was on the same level as J.J. Watt. And I thought to myself, "Wow! That's hard to believe."

When it came my time to watch the tape, I said, "Oh, wow! He's on the same level as J.J. Watt!" I mean, this guy's having a fantastic year, definitely a game-wrecker for this game.

And according to Pro Football Focus, that praise of Donald isn't just hyperbole:

Pro Football Focus @PFF

Aaron Donald (+64.7) has a higher overall grade than J.J. Watt (+63.9), something nobody has been able to do since Watt's rookie season

And mind you, this is without even mentioning 25-year-old defensive end Robert Quinn, who was placed on injured reserve last week—he had 19 sacks in 2013—or speedy third-year linebacker Alec Ogletree, who broke his leg earlier this season.

Between the Robert Griffin trade and years of losing, there hasn't been a team in the NFL with more high draft picks over the past half-decade than the Rams. Granted, not every pick or personnel decision has panned out (hey, at least they got a second-rounder with Nick Foles, right?), but the Rams have assembled a nice stockpile of young impact players on both sides of the ball.

So what's the problem? Why can't the Rams get over the hump? Why will the team finish 2015 with a non-winning record for a staggering 12th straight season?

Some will point to a quest for a franchise quarterback that's been going on since the Rams switched from Kurt Warner to Marc Bulger back in 2003.

But the root of the Rams' problem lies higher up the food chain.

Dec 13, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher in the game against the Detroit Lions during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. The St. Louis Rams defeat the Detroit Lions 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Spo
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Fisher just isn't a very good head coach.

Mind you, he isn't a terrible head coach. He's an experienced head coach, with this being his 21st season prowling an NFL sideline. He's been to a Super Bowl. Six times, teams he's coached have won double-digit games.

Of course, we just hit on part of the problem. Jeff Fisher teams have won 10 or more games only six times in 21 years. Meanwhile, nine seasons with Fisher at the helm have ended with his team winning seven or eight games.

The Rams appear headed for No. 10 in 2015.

All of three head coaches in NFL history have lost more games than Fisher. All three have more playoff and Super Bowl appearances. Many more.

Most losses by head coach, NFL history
Dan Reeves2319016594
Tom Landry29250162185
Don Shula33328156196
Jeff Fisher2116815561
Per Pro Football Reference

In fact, as ESPN's Kevin Seifert tweeted, it's been a good long while since a Fisher-coached team didn't watch the playoffs on TV:

Kevin Seifert @SeifertESPN

#Rams want Jeff Fisher back in 2016, per @AdamSchefter. Last Fisher team in playoffs: 2008. Last Fisher team to win in playoffs: 2003.

Ten days ago, Bleacher Report's NFL national lead writer Mike Tanier offered up some helpful advice for the Rams.

"Fire Jeff Fisher," Tanier wrote. "But wait until the end of the season. The only person we want to see coaching a team less than Fisher right now is Gregg Williams."

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated echoed the sentiment, after the division-leading Cardinals pasted the Rams in Week 13:

Rams coach Jeff Fisher told the media he’s run out of answers after his team’s latest egg-laying, a 27–3 home loss to the Cardinals. I think that probably went without saying. The real question is whether Fisher has run out of time, after four entirely mediocre seasons in St. Louis? And if not, why not?

The Rams are in complete free-fall, having lost five in a row after starting the season 4–3. St. Louis has been outscored 58–10 the past two weeks, and now even rookie running back Todd Gurley isn’t much to watch, gaining 41 yards on just nine carries against Arizona. The lowlight for the Rams on Sunday was watching cornerback Janoris Jenkins get absolutely wiped out in the first quarter on a hit by his own teammate, T.J. McDonald.

California, here we come.

But since then the Rams have won two in a row (over bad teams) and news has come down that Fisher's job is safe.

And according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the reason has nothing to do with football:

Jeff Fisher's job is safe in St. Louis, despite the 5-8 Rams closing in on their fourth straight losing season under Fisher. Rams owner Stan Kroenke is likely stuck in St. Louis for another year, and he is focused on a possible move to Los Angeles and is not in the business of paying ‎people $6 million plus to leave for a product he isn't all that engaged in right now, anyway.

Profit opportunities are scant for the lame-duck Rams in St. Louis and Fisher remains very much aligned with team president Kevin Demoff and there was never any movement to making a coaching move even as dire as it is there. Kroenke's best-case scenario now is to have any moves to Los Angeles pushed back until 2017. It's hard to imagine his Inglewood stadium projects get 24 votes by mid-January, and that will lead to the status quo for the most part.

The Rams have an owner in Kroenke who already has more money than God. And yet all indications are he's more interested in putting his team in his stadium on his land in Los Angeles and making even more money than in taking full advantage of the young talent on his team and making a change at head coach.

There won't be any up-and-comers like Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, or former head coaches looking for a second chance like New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Nope. There will be more of the same. The occasional win. Highlight plays from young stars who will see the prime of their careers wasted on mediocre teams.

Because the Rams are a lame-duck franchise. Because the owner doesn't give two hoots about winning.

And because mediocrity is what Jeff Fisher does best.

Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter, @IDPSharks.


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