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Rams land Fisher; noneconomic issues were key to coach’s decision

By Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

ST. LOUIS — Jeff Fisher couldn’t quite win a Super Bowl coaching against the Rams. Maybe he can do so with the Rams 12 years later.

Fisher ended nearly two weeks of drama in St. Louis and Miami by deciding to cast his lot with the Rams as their next head coach.

“The process has been lengthy, but for good reasons,” Fisher told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday afternoon. “I took a lot of time looking at and exploring in detail the noneconomic issues of both clubs.”

Much to the chagrin of Rams and Dolphins fans, Fisher had a deliberate timetable in mind when he started the process, and for the most part he stuck to it.

After he visited Rams Park on Sunday, Monday was to be a day to reflect on his visits and interviews in both cities. Tuesday and Wednesday were to be spent making sure all noneconomic issues were in order — meaning everything besides Fisher’s salary. Things such as staffing, personnel, the structure of the front office, etc.

“It’s not about my salary,” Fisher said. “It’s about the opportunity to win games.”

As if proving that point, Fisher chose the Rams before contract details were finalized. According to sources familiar with the negotiations, Fisher actually informed Rams owner Stan Kroenke sometime Thursday that he wanted to be the next head coach of the Rams.

Because the contract hadn’t been finalized, the Rams kept things quiet and even planned to continue their interview process. But Miami owner Stephen Ross kept pushing and pushing to land Fisher. Growing impatient, the Dolphins informed the Fisher camp they needed an answer Friday or they were going to move on in their search.

So Fisher’s agent, Marvin Demoff, informed the Dolphins of the decision Friday. Unbeknownst to the Rams, news leaked out about Fisher’s decision early in the afternoon, apparently by the Miami camp. The Rams weren’t aware of this until a contingent of Rams officials got off a plane in San Francisco, where they had planned to interview New Orleans assistant Aaron Kromer for the head-coaching job.

Obviously, it’s an interview that never took place, with the Rams quickly trying to get out of the Bay Area and back to St. Louis.

“I’m really excited that the Rams are the best fit for me,” Fisher said. “I hope I’m the best fit for the Rams, and am looking forward to finalizing the (contract) details and coming to work.”

It’s expected that Fisher’s salary will average about $7 million a year, which would make him among the highest-paid coaches in the NFL. It’s also expected that Fisher will have final say on personnel matters, be it the draft, free agency or the setting of the 53-man roster entering the regular season. He had the dual title of executive vice president-head coach during most of his tenure in Tennessee and will have a similar title in St. Louis.

“I think it’s a great hire,” said Dick Vermeil, whose Rams defeated Fisher’s Tennessee Titans 23-16 in Super Bowl XXXIV to conclude the 1999 season. “I think he’s a leader. I think he can positively influence people and motivate them. He’s a disciplinarian. He’ll do the right things for the right reasons.”

Fisher interviewed with Rams owner Stan Kroenke and other team officials Jan. 5 in Denver, where Kroenke Sports Enterprises is headquartered. He then toured Rams Park on Sunday, meeting with quarterback Sam Bradford in the process. Before that came visits with Dolphins owner Ross in Palm Beach and a tour of the facilities in Miami.

Since then, a bevy of mostly speculative reports indicated that Fisher teetered between the two choices. The outspoken Ross boasted at the start of the process that the Dolphins would not be outbid for Fisher. But in the end the ability to have final say in personnel probably tipped the scales in favor of St. Louis.

Several longtime associates of Fisher’s said he knew Kroenke would provide the resources necessary to eventually compete for playoff berths and championships. There should be ample salary cap space for player acquisitions this offseason and next, and the Rams have a chance to add an impact player in the draft this April with the No. 2 overall selection. Also, with no general manager in place, Fisher can have a huge say in who fills that position.

Although the Rams have holes to fill throughout the roster, Fisher thinks highly of core players such as Bradford, running back Steve Jackson, defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis.

As word spread of Fisher’s decision, Rams players were excited about the prospect of working with an established head coach with a proven track record. Veteran cornerback Ron Bartell’s one-word text response when informed that Fisher was coming to St. Louis: “Wow!”

It became apparent only Sunday that Fisher thought the plusses outweighed the minuses in St. Louis. But it also was learned over the weekend that Fisher was concerned with the Rams’ stadium lease situation and a possible franchise move.

Fisher coached the Titans through their move from Houston to Memphis to Nashville in the mid-1990s and didn’t want to go through a second relocation saga. Obviously those concerns didn’t prove to be a deal breaker.

So with a résumé that includes a career record of 147-126 with the Oilers-Titans franchise, six playoff appearances, three 13-victory seasons — and, yes, one Super Bowl defeat — it’s on to St. Louis as the replacement for the fired Steve Spagnuolo.

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