Why Is Jeff Fisher Still an NFL Head Coach?
What were you doing in 1994?
Going to work for the first time after graduating college? Watching an episode of Saved By the Bell before catching the bus to school? Chillin' in your mother's womb?
Jeff Fisher, the current head coach of the St. Louis Rams, was getting his first opportunity as a head coach in the NFL. He had replaced Jack Pardee, who led the Houston Oilers to a 1-9 record after taking them to the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons. Fisher went on to finish the year 1-5.
Houston turned Tennessee kept Fisher through 2010.
Jeff Fisher coached the Oilers and Titans through pogs, most of Bill Clinton's presidency, 'N Sync, the entire Friends series, the launch of Wikipedia, the mortgage crisis, and Ryan Leaf's career. He had the same job, albeit in different cities, for 16 years after becoming interim head coach for the Oilers in 1994.
After mutually agreeing to part ways in January of 2011, Fisher took a year off before taking the head coaching gig with the Rams. He's now been there for three years.
Even casual football fans know who Jeff Fisher is -- "He's the guy with the mustache, right?" Right. But he's also the guy who's been so incredibly fortunate to be an NFL head coach for 20 years despite one of the most mediocre track records you'll find in the league.
It's not fair to count Fisher's short, six-game 1994 season as his own. After all, he took over the Oilers when they were 1-9, and no coach would be able to make a significant impact in just six contests.
Throw that away, and you've got 19 head coaching seasons of Jeff Fisher.
|1995||7||9||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|1996||8||8||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|1997||8||8||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|1998||8||8||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|1999||13||3||Lost Super Bowl|
|2000||13||3||Lost Divisional Round|
|2001||7||9||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|2002||11||5||Lost Conference Championship|
|2003||12||4||Lost Divisional Round|
|2004||5||11||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|2005||4||12||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|2006||8||8||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|2007||10||6||Lost Wild Card Round|
|2008||13||3||Lost Divisional Round|
|2009||8||8||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|2010||6||10||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|2012||7||8||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|2013||7||9||Failed to Make Playoffs|
|2014||6||10||Failed to Make Playoffs|
Fisher's made the playoffs six times in those 19 seasons. His team has reached the Super Bowl once -- thanks to a Wild Card game that had plenty of luck on his side -- while three of those six playoff teams failed to win a single game. The only postseason where Fisher made a run -- where he won more than one game -- came in 2000 when he reached the Super Bowl.
The list of coaches who have led teams for more than 15 years is slim. And if we filter 15-plus year coaches down to those who coached the majority of their teams after the merger, we get 23 of them.
Among the 23, only 5 have fewer playoff wins than Jeff Fisher.
Perhaps this ranking isn't so bad when you consider coaches who have coached for 15 or more years are more than likely great, and being among them is good in and of itself. Well, consider this: had the Music City Miracle never happened -- the word "miracle" is in the title of the play, meaning it was a highly improbable and extraordinary event -- Jeff Fisher would have two playoff wins in 19 seasons. But hey, he's still better than Jim Mora. (Playoffs? Playoffs?!)
Even if the playoffs don't define a coach (ask the Bengals about this), Fisher's regular season work isn't all that impressive, either. The only winning seasons he's had as a head coach in the league were the six where he made the playoffs, while his 52.4% regular season winning percentage ranks 57th out of 122 relevant (5 or more years coaching) coaches.
He's average in the regular season, and he's not great in the playoffs. Has he at least won the advanced metrics battle?
Fisher's Advanced Metrics
When you peruse Jeff Fisher's team metrics -- not just win-loss records -- things aren't really much different. That'll happen when your sample size is so large, I suppose. (Remember, he's been coaching for over 19 freaking years.)
The chart below shows the offensive and defensive rankings for Jeff Fisher-led squads since 2000 (the year our advanced data becomes most accurate). The rankings are in terms of our Adjusted (for strength of schedule) Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.
|Year||Team||Offensive Rank||Defensive Rank|
Here's a quick breakdown: Jeff Fisher's offenses haven't ranked higher than 15th in the NFL since 2003. I guess that'll happen when you're a defensive-minded coach? Or maybe I'm just making an excuse -- that seems to happen a lot with Jeff Fisher.
On the defensive side, Fisher's had some tough units (the 2007 and 2008 Titans were pretty strong, if you recall), but the average rank is still just 14.86, despite some really strong performances.
The advanced metrics agree with his record: he's been incredibly mediocre.
Why Is He Still Coaching?
The best explanation I can give to this question is that Jeff Fisher continues to do just enough to not lose his job. And if you look at his yearly records, this notion kind of makes sense.
Fisher's led just two teams to fewer than six wins. Meanwhile, over 47% of Fisher's teams have ended the season 7-9 or 8-8.
Mediocrity at its finest.
The term "quarterback purgatory" is thrown around when a quarterback is just good enough to win some games, but not strong enough to take a team on a deep playoff run. He shows signs of greatness, but he just will never be great. But his team uses those signs as hope -- as potential -- and they hold onto him for a long period of time, resulting in nothing.
The Rams have been in quarterback purgatory for years. The franchise continues to hold onto this false Sam Bradford hope, refusing to bring in real competition or let him go.
Perhaps the Rams are now also in head coach purgatory. And the combination of the two could be a disaster for the franchise.