Rams Closer to Finding Coach

Posted Jan 9, 2012

The Rams and Dolphins are vying for the services of Jeff Fisher to be their next head coach.

One week into the process, the Rams could be closing in on hiring the 26th head coach in the history of the franchise.

After meeting with former Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher on Wednesday and Thursday last week in Denver, Fisher paid a visit to the Russell Training Center on Sunday, toured the facilities and spent time with quarterback Sam Bradford.

Those visits came on the heels of a similar visit for Fisher in Miami, where the Dolphins courted him in a comparable fashion.

By the end of the week, it was clear that Fisher had emerged as the top choice to become head coach for both teams.

Now, both teams anticipate a decision from Fisher sometimes in the next couple of days according to Kevin Demoff, the Rams chief operating officer and executive vice president of football operations.

“I think it’s probably fair to say that if he were excited to be excited about coming here, we’d be excited to have him,” Demoff said. “Obviously, there are a lot of things to work through on both sides. You never know how these things are going to turn out but he’s obviously an impressive coach with an impressive resume and we are excited about what we’ve heard so far.”

Fisher’s visit to St. Louis lasted about four hours; with a chunk of that time spent meeting with Bradford, the team’s third-year signal caller.

Speculation about Fisher’s ultimate choice has been wild and rampant but it’s clear that Fisher had not yet reached a conclusion on where he wants to coach next.

In Fisher’s conversations with the Rams’ contingent, it was readily apparent why he had the amount of success he enjoyed in Tennessee as well as a couple of things that you can’t tell from simply looking at a resume.

“With Jeff, I think we saw a lot of what makes him attractive to the players and coaches who work with him and play for him and get a sense for how he handles different situations,” Demoff said.

One aspect of the interviews – or conversations, as Demoff prefers to call them – that generally reveals itself is the need for both sides to ask plenty of questions.

For instance, Fisher stepped away from the game two years ago and in the ever-changing world of the NFL, that can be a long time. Having watched what’s happened in the league since his departure, can Fisher come back and have success with the same philosophies or did he show that he can and will adapt?

“I think with someone like Jeff who walked away from the Titans on his own terms, he spent a lot of the year learning and observing and I’m sure there are things that he’ll do different,” Demoff said. “But he had great success as a head coach for a long time so I think he understands what works but good coaches are always looking at ways to innovate and find new ways to motivate their teams and find ways to win. I think Jeff knows that.”

Fisher returned to his home in the Nashville area on Sunday night and is expected to choose between the Rams and Dolphins in the next few days.

That Fisher has emerged as the top target for head coaching jobs around the league comes as no surprise. Fisher is, by far, the most experienced coach on the market with a long history of success in the league.

In 16-plus seasons with the Titans, Fisher guided the team to a 147-126 record (including the postseason) and an AFC championship.

Fisher even has some experience coaching with the Rams, serving as defensive coordinator for the team when it was still in Los Angeles in 1991.

“I think someone who has been a head coach in the NFL as long as he has, has seen everything,” Demoff said. “There are not a lot of situations that surprise him and if you are looking for someone with experience, you are looking at someone who has taken a team to the Super Bowl, who has dealt with a disappointing year and who has built a consistent winner. When you look at Jeff’s record, his teams were always competitive, they were always in the playoff hunt at the end and that’s something we would like to bring to St. Louis, a winning consistency.

“They had some really good years at the same times we did but they never went through the disappointing times. And they had some difficulties, they had a salary cap purge, they lost some guys and they went through a period where they had some struggles at the quarterback position and all through it they managed to redefine themselves a number of times. That’s a great quality in a head coach to be able to win in a number of different ways.”

Should Fisher ultimately opt for the Dolphins, the Rams have an extensive list of candidates they are prepared to work through to find the right candidate. In fact, the Rams have had their contingency plans in place for the better part of the past week and began setting those plans into motion on Monday.

The team already interviewed Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton for the position on Friday last week and came away impressed.

“I think Ray Horton was confident, impressive, bold and struck you as someone who knew the right way to reach players to win football games,” Demoff said. “In Arizona this year, the turnaround on defense speaks volumes to what he can do given time and given personnel.”

Horton has an impressive background which includes two Super Bowl trips (one win) as a player with Cincinnati and Dallas and three more Super Bowl berths (two wins) as an assistant coach in Pittsburgh.

That track record of winning combined with time spent playing for and coaching with a number of elite coaches such as Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau seemingly have Horton on a fast track to becoming a head coach at some point in his career.

“He spent time with Sam Wyche, Mike Tomlin, Don James and other great coaches so his pedigree is very interesting,” Demoff said. “He’s won Super Bowls as a player. He’s won Super Bowls as an assistant coach. That’s the ultimate goal, you want to win Super Bowls and you want to be with someone who has been there. Ray Horton has been to five. He’s a proven winner at every level.”

While the Rams are awaiting a decision from Fisher, they were sufficiently impressed with Horton that he could remain in the mix should Fisher opt for Miami.

Likewise, Demoff and the Rams’ search committee are not resting on their laurels as they compile and whittle a lengthy list of potential coaching candidates.

The Rams spent last week researching candidates and looking to uncover some possible hidden gems that might not be receiving the attention they deserve. Some of those candidates were unable to become a part of the process just yet because they were serving in their current coaching roles on playoff teams involved in games.

On Monday, as the availability of some of those candidates began to crystallize, the Rams began reaching out to others on the list who are of interest.

“I think we’ve got about six or seven guys who we may ask for permission,” Demoff said. “We are doing our due diligence on about 10 to 12 different candidates and making calls and working on general profiles. The way this works isn’t much different than the draft process. You start with a number of candidates and you do more research and make more calls and that list whittles down then you make calls on those guys and the list whittles down again and ultimately you wind up with two or three people where you just can’t find any glaring holes. That’s the group you want to talk to and ultimately the group you choose from.”

Demoff maintained that the Rams won’t set a definitive timetable on hiring a coach but did acknowledge that for the purpose of putting a staff together it would be preferable to have it done in time for Senior Bowl week, which begins two weeks from today.

“The coaching one you do want to speed up to some degree because you want them to be able to fill the best coaching staff you can and that comes down obviously at the Senior Bowl which is the job fair so you’d like to have that opportunity,” Demoff said. “But I think it would be a mistake to have any kind of (specific) timeline on it.”