The meltdowns were too frequent. The booing was too loud. The losing was too much.
In just four months, the powerful bond between the NFL’s returning Rams and their Los Angeles fans had dissolved into empty Coliseum seats, derisive chants and an alienation that was tearing the welcome mat into tatters.
With three games to play in a horrible 4-9 homecoming season, the Rams needed to do something. And so on a Monday far more dramatic than most of their Sundays, they dealt with the biggest issue separating them and their dwindling flock.
They finally fired Coach Jeff Fisher.
It was startling but expected, a move that will offer great relief to the many Rams fans weary of the conservative coach who had not only lost games, but bored them to death.
Indicative of the Rams’ desperation for change is that they made the move just four days before they will play again Thursday in Seattle. This gives interim coach John Fassel, the Rams’ special teams coach, barely time to find his office.
“All of a sudden there’s 100 cameras here and it’s tripping me out,” said Fassel at Monday’s hastily called news conference.
The NFL landscape is already buzzing with a list of possible permanent replacement candidates, many of whom would certainly jump at an opening with a deep-pocketed owner, a potentially huge fan base and a new stadium due to open in Inglewood in 2019.
Jon Gruden, the ESPN analyst and former Super Bowl champion coach, immediately goes to the top of the list. So, do both of the Harbaugh brothers — Michigan’s Jim and the Baltimore Ravens’ John. There will also be talk of the NFL’s two hottest offensive coordinators, New England’s Josh McDaniels and Atlanta’s Kyle Shanahan.
Whoever is hired, he will be welcomed as if he is the first coach of the new Los Angeles Rams, and his mandate is clear. He must win, and he must entertain, neither of which Fisher did very well.
Whoever is hired, he will be welcomed as if he is the first coach of the new Los Angeles Rams, and his mandate is clear.
In his five seasons with the Rams, Fisher never had a winning record, and his team’s offense averaged the NFL’s fewest yards and second-fewest points. In his one partial season in Los Angeles, he greeted Hollywood with a sizzling attack that was scoring a league-worst 14.9 points a game. They won three of their first four games, but have lost eight of their last nine. In their last three games they have been outscored 117-45.
In what became the final indignation, a 42-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the Falcons scored more touchdowns in the Coliseum in one game (six) than the Rams have scored there all season (five). With his 165th loss, Fisher is now tied for the most coaching defeats in NFL history.
“This is the right time to make a change as our performance has not lived up to my or our fans’ expectations,” said Kroenke in a statement. “We are all 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 in bringing us closer to that goal.”
This was a clear win for Kroenke and Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer, who showed they are sensitive to their new fans, aware of their new marketplace and understanding of the need to push the reset button before the town’s welcoming embrace was completely withdrawn.
“People are going to put up with ups and downs, what they want to make sure is that we’re committed to winning and we’re committed to getting it right,” said Demoff, who is expected to also dismiss General Manager Les Snead after the season. “I think they’ll handle the good days with the bad days as long as they see passion from ownership that wins and losses elicit. I think you see and that and feel that from Stan today.”
This was a clear loss for the Rams players, many of whom considered Fisher a protective father figure. Over the last five years they had grown comfortable with him, perhaps leading to the mediocrity that marked his reign.
When the media entered the Rams’ locker room Monday afternoon at the team’s training facility in Thousand Oaks, players shouted at the reporters in what appeared to be anger.
“It’s very emotional,’’ quarterback Jared Goff said. “He was very well-liked, very giving, he treated us the right way … and we didn’t do enough for him. It sucks. It’s not fun. We let him down.”
From the moment he brought the team to Los Angeles last winter, Fisher was given every chance to stay. Before the season, the Rams even gave Fisher, who was in the final year of his contract, a two-year extension so he wouldn’t feel like a lame duck and would be rewarded for assisting in the move to L.A.
But almost immediately, things went wrong. Fisher began the season benching overall No. 1 draft pick Goff in favor of veteran Case Keenum, trading potential excitement for predictability, and the Rams lost five of their first nine games. When Goff was made a starter in the 10th game, Fisher didn’t trust him, and the Rams lost the next four games with conservative play-calling. In the final weeks of Fisher’s tenure, the coach made more bad news by denying sideline passes to Rams legend Eric Dickerson because Dickerson was critical on his radio show.
“It’s easy to stand up here and say you’re going to make a change, the hard part is getting the change right,” Demoff said. “We obviously want to win the fans’ trust back.”
Monday was a strong start.
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