Emotions were raw among Rams players Monday night, a mixture of anger, sadness, frustration and embarrassment permeating their locker room in the wake of Coach Jeff Fisher's firing.
John Fassel — the unassuming and energetic special-teams coordinator who was promoted to interim coach for the final three games — surveyed the scene, sized up the shrapnel flying after Sunday's blowout loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Rams' eighth loss in nine games, and saw opportunity.
"I think emotions are good," said Fassel, whose only head-coaching experience came at Division II New Mexico Highlands in 2003-04. "Sometimes you say something you regret, or it gets a little too combative, but I've always thought emotions are great.
"You just have to find a way to corral them. In this situation, every player on the team has the utmost respect for Coach Fisher, and it has to be a little bit of a rallying cry. We're not going to go to the playoffs, so what are we playing for? We're playing because we love ball, and because we love Coach Fisher."
The Rams' passion was questioned Sunday when running back Todd Gurley suggested some players were "just going through the motions," but their love for Fisher seems undying.
Defensive end William Hayes called Fisher "my football dad," and offensive lineman Jamon Brown thanked Fisher "for giving pretty much everyone in this room the opportunity to do what we love to do."
Their devotion to Fisher made his dismissal tougher to swallow.
"I can't stand here and say I support the decision — that's above my pay grade," Hayes said. "I'm gonna give 110%, but at the end of the day, I thought, personally, he did a great job leading this team.
"It's unfortunate because the losses always get put on to the head coach, but the reality is, we [screwed] it up. We messed up a real good situation. We didn't go out there and do what we needed to do. We were inconsistent, we played like [crap], and that's why he doesn't have a job."
Brown had to pause and collect himself when he spoke of Fisher's address to the team Monday morning.
"He told us how he felt about letting us down, he apologized to us," Brown said. "The vibe from the room was, we really should be apologizing to him, because we didn't do everything that we needed to do to make sure something like this wouldn't happen."
Hayes seemed offended when asked if Fisher "lost" the locker room.
"Absolutely not," Hayes said. "That's bull. … Everybody in the locker room loves that guy. I don't want to get personal or throw shots at anybody, but individually, guys didn't do what they're supposed to do. We didn't win the games we should have won. We failed him."
One of Fassel's challenges entering Thursday night's game at Seattle is to channel all of the negative energy into something positive.
"I don't think I can manufacture energy for the team — that will have to be built over the next couple of days, as we get closer to the game," Fassel, 42, said. "The advice I've gotten is to be myself. If that creates some energy, great, but I can't fake it."
The tall and skinny Fassel — nicknamed "Bones" because he appears to have no body fat — is a triathlete and former Pacific and Weber State receiver who has the stamina of someone half his age.
"I didn't sleep last night," he told a packed media room at the team's Cal Lutheran practice facility Monday, "so I can't say when I woke up this morning."
Fassel, the son of former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel, was told an hour before his special-teams meeting Monday morning that he would be the interim coach. He spoke to Fisher before addressing the team.
"I asked for his blessing," Fassel said. "I love Coach Fisher. I respect the heck out of him. He gave me a great opportunity to come coach on his staff, and I'm going to do my best to make him proud over the next three weeks."
Fassel was surprised he was selected as interim coach on a staff that includes defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, both former NFL head coaches.
"I'm in the dungeon working on special teams day and night; that's all I do," Fassel said. "I don't make the decisions Coach Fisher or the coordinators make. … I'm one of those guys who is grinding it every day, trying to figure out how to cover some punts. All of a sudden there's a couple hundred cameras here, and it's kind of tripping me out."
Fassel, however, said he is not "in awe" of his new position and the responsibilities that come with it.
"I grew up a coach's son, so I understand the emotions of hiring and firing," Fassel said. "The odd thing was it happened so fast. But in football, you have to be able to adapt and react, and this is one of those situations. You can't really prepare for it, but we have a great staff that will help me make good decisions."