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Likeability aside, Jeff Fisher has to prove to Rams fans that he's a keeper

Likeability aside, Jeff Fisher has to prove to Rams fans that he's a keeper
Rams Coach Jeff Fisher watches his team warm up before a preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs at the Coliseum on Aug. 20. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Jeff Fisher would be a cool uncle.

With shorts, flip-flops, and funky glasses hanging from his neck on a string, his presence is chill.

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Yet with a bit of gravel in the voice and salt in the pepper hair, his aura is wise.

Fisher is the older relative you hang with at the family picnic, the one who gives you the best advice about your first girlfriend, the one who meets you at a small table in the back of a dive bar to toast your 21st birthday.

As anyone who watched the otherwise dull "Hard Knocks'' series on HBO this summer can attest, Fisher is an eminently likeable 58-year-old guy who comes across as part surfer and part sage.

None of which addresses the messy question he dragged across the country last spring in leading the Rams back to Los Angeles.

Fans will love Jeff Fisher as a dude, but will they want him as their football coach?

He's been great for the transition, but is he the right man for the future?

Fisher is entering the final year of his contract, and there has been talk of the Rams giving him a contract extension, but no piece of paper will change the local perception of Fisher's status.

The Los Angeles Rams coaching seat may have just been created, but it's already hot. Fisher may have just arrived, but he's surely going to have to show improvement to stick around.

Judging strictly from the record books, it's actually surprising that Fisher is still the Rams coach. If the team struggles this year as expected, those numbers will be covered in a historical level of shade.

In four seasons with the Rams, Fisher is 27-36-1, with never more than seven wins in a season. No coach in NFL history has had a losing record in his first four years with a franchise and still had his job by the end of his fifth. 

In 21 seasons with two franchises, Fisher is 169-156-1 with only six playoff appearances. Among the 15 coaches with 20 years or more of NFL experience, only Curly Lambeau and Weeb Ewbank qualified for the playoffs less often than Fisher. But Ewbank won three titles, including a Super Bowl championship, and Lambeau won six championships while competing in years without playoffs.

Then there's the record that Fisher could set this season, and it's a whopper. With 10 losses, he would become the losingest coach in NFL history.

Yes, of course, to lose 166 games means one has to be good enough to coach nearly twice that many games. It’s an odd milestone, sort of like the one Kobe Bryant reached when he set the NBA record for missed shots. Still, Fisher is one of only three men among the top 10 losingest NFL coaches to have never won a championship.

The statistics conclude that Fisher's resume is the NFL's definition of "mediocre,'' and that won't play in Los Angeles.

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Fisher coached a team that came within a yard of a potential Super Bowl win, but his dramatic and entertaining moments are collecting dust, and that also won't play in Los Angeles.

He hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2003 season, a span of 13 years. How long ago was that? It was the same year the Lakers added Karl Malone and Gary Payton.

He's been to the Super Bowl once, after the 1999 season, which was 17 years ago, and how long ago was that? It was the same year the Dodgers were managed by Davey Johnson.

This sort of mediocrity also doesn't play in the NFL. Not even close.

Marty Schottenheimer was fired from the San Diego Chargers after a 2006 season in which he went 14-2, completing a three-year span in which the Chargers were 35-13.

Gary Klein and Lindsey Thiry preview the Rams season opener against the San Francisco 49ers. (Lindsey Thiry )

Tom Coughlin was run off by the New York Giants last winter after only three consecutive losing seasons — one fewer than Fisher — and he’d won two Super Bowls. 

How the Rams handle their coach will tell fans a lot about the sort of identity they want to create on the local sports landscape.

Do they want to be the Lakers? Even when the Lakers are hopeless, they expect their leaders to be great, which is why they've blown through five coaches in six years.

Or do the Rams want to settle into a role once held by Donald Sterling’s Clippers? Mike Dunleavy, a great guy like Fisher, lasted nearly eight full seasons there despite a .397 winning percentage. The Clippers finally became relevant when they hired Doc Rivers.

This is a town where mediocrity can make a team disappear from the landscape faster than a dancing monkey. Just ask the Angels. This is a town where coaching mediocrity results in flying banners calling for your head. Just ask UCLA's Steve Alford.

This is a town where you must not only win, but also you must entertain, and in four years, Fisher's Rams have never finished higher than 21st in points scored and 23rd in yards gained.

Whatever worked for Fisher in Houston and Nashville and St. Louis does not apply here. Winning works here. Hollywood works here. If the Rams really do give Fisher a contract extension, and the mediocrity remains, then the Rams will not work here.

Fisher is a good guy who thus far has deftly handed a difficult situation with toughness and grace. The Rams have been virtual nomads for eight months, yet he has seemingly given them a sense of permanence and place. His top draft pick has been lost and confused, yet Fisher hasn't once embarrassed Jared Goff, and even when he announced that the kid quarterback was going to be inactive for the opener, he did so with encouragement and hope.

Fisher has handled himself well, but there is a sense he knows that's not going to be enough, not here, not now. You can hear it in his infamous speech on "Hard Knocks,'' one that has become the mantra for the season.

"I'm not [bleeping] going 7-9 or 8-8 or 9-7 OK? … or 10-6 for that matter,'' he shouted at his players during a team meeting. "This team is too talented. I'm not going to settle for that, OK? I know what I'm doing.''

Los Angeles will see for itself. At some point, even cool uncles need to win.

Twitter: @BillPlaschke

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