Jeff Fisher is at the point in his career where doesn’t do job interviews in the conventional sense. He is the proven commodity, the best available guy not named Bill Cowher. (And only a true marquee job will move Cowher off his mountain of TV money.) Unlike the rest of us, Fisher doesn’t have to sweat his resume, or worry about his references, and he doesn’t have to worry about what questions he might be asked by his future employer.
When Jeff Fisher visits your team for a five-hour interview, you aren’t interviewing him; he is interviewing you. He knows, and we know, that it isn’t about what he brings to the table; it’s about your ability to set the table for him, and keep piling good things on top of it. Talent. Money. Freedom to run the football team the way he sees fit. And not necessarily in that order.
Fisher has now spent the same amount of time “interviewing” in Miami and in St Louis. He’s gotten a good look at each organization, or what’s left of them after housecleaning. He met with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and GM Jeff Ireland. He met with Stan Kroenke (in Denver) and Rams money man Kevin Demoff.
Perhaps most importantly, he spent a good chunk of time sitting down with Sam Bradford, this franchise’s Franchise.
ESPN’s Mike Sando talked about the choice that Fisher faces earlier this week, and suggests that the decision might be an easy one, if he follows Jim Harbaugh’s path. After all, last year’s hot coaching prospect “took one look at Stephen Ross’ organization and hired on with the San Francisco 49ers.”
The decision won’t be quite that simple, but I believe St Louis will be the choice, and Bradford will be the reason why.
Daniel Eliesen put the two franchises up side by side in his Jeff Fisher debate for This Given Sunday, and aside from Bradford, there’s a significant advantage in talent on the side of the Dolphins.
It’s an advantage that the Niners would have held over Miami last year, with their wealth of talent on defense and a few key contributors on offense — namely Mike Iupati, Frank Gore, and Harbaugh’s belief in a fellow man of the PAC-10, Alex Smith.
It’s an advantage that Miami most certainly holds over the Rams, whose roster has been decimated of young players by Devaney’s offseason. To compare:
Rams Offense: Bradford, Jackson (age 29), Rodger Saffold and Harvey Dahl, and a receiving corps whose healthiest player (Brandon Gibson) barely saw the field. Without Brandon Lloyd, the talent there is just as raw and unproven as they were last year.
Dolphins Offense: A resurgent Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Brandon Marshall, and your left tackle for all eternity, Jake Long. Throw in Matt Moore and some bric-a-brac, and you’ve got a core you can work with.
Rams Defense: Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and Robert Quinn anchor your front seven, with a repurposable Quintin Mikell and a hopefully healthy Bradley Fletcher in the secondary.
Dolphins Defense: Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby, and a solid end in Randy Starks with young Jared Odrick to build upon up front. Throw in Koa Misi and Vontae Davis, and you have a good unit that just needs more help in the secondary.
But Fisher has been in the business long enough to know that talent can be acquired; an identity has to be built. Ideologically, Fisher and Spagnuolo are almost a perfect match, and while Spags was derided for never taking his team past the “try hard” stage, he did have them bought in and trying hard.
In terms of culture, Fisher could not ask for a better fit than the Rams. And in terms of fan bases, St Louis needs Fisher in a way that Miami, with its countless entertainments and distractions, simply does not.
But a delicate question remained: was Bradford a full participant in that culture?
Not to question the kid’s work ethic, but rather his level of commitment to a philosophy of winning, a way of competing. Bradford looked disassociated from this team at several points this season, and alarm bells have been clanging at his body language at several points this year. Moreover, former teammate Mike Karney couldn’t help but criticise Bradford’s lack of locker room leadership, even as he praised his QB’s potential and play.
More troubling, Josh McDaniels was in his ear all season long, performing his Svengali routine, and perhaps driving a subtle wedge between Sam and the “team first” culture that Spagnuolo was trying to build. Whatever the cause, that wedge appeared to fester and grow between McD and Spags all year long, especially as it shaped the seesawing offense. At the end of the season, Sam rather strongly endorsed keeping McDaniels, but failed to do so with the same vigor for his head coach.
Fisher is no different from the rest of us, in that he saw all this happen from a distance. He wasn’t in the locker room, nor on the Rams sideline. He saw what we saw, from a distance. And he had to have nagging questions. Maybe all that circumstantial evidence added up to nothing. Maybe there was never a problem to begin with. But Fisher would have to make sure.
A head coach and his quarterback are joined by fate, lashed to the same mast, receiver of the same storms. They have to be committed to the same goal, and to one another. Fisher has been down that road before, and his falling out with a half-committed Vince Young (and by proxy, Titans owner Bud Adams) ultimately led to his dismissal.
The most important interview for Fisher, then, was his in-depth talk with his potential franchise quarterback, the young man he would be preparing to lash himself to. Bradford is coming off of a very tough year, and the coach had to know how he would respond. And this is where Sam’s greatest attribute will pay off — not his arm strength, or his accuracy, or his ability to digest a playbook — his relentless competitiveness, his commitment to winning.
We don’t know how that conversation went. But from what we hear — as reported by Jim Thomas — the only question remaining in Fisher’s mind is where the Rams’ home games will be played. Aside from that, “Fisher likes a lot of what he sees in the Rams.”
Most of what he saw in Rams Park were empty facilities, positions waiting to be filled, areas where he could put his Jeff Fisher stamp on the franchise. Sam Bradford was the one difference-making quantity. And if Fisher liked what he saw in Bradford’s eyes, the St. Louis Rams will be his next team.