ST. LOUIS – Almost two weeks after they put away the helmets and shoulder pads, the St. Louis Rams picked up their third win of a dismal season.
The Rams prevailed in a high-stakes, head-to-head competition with the Miami Dolphins and landed Jeff Fisher for their vacant head coaching job. The team said Friday it was finalizing a deal to hire the veteran coach who sat out the 2011 season after 17 years in Tennessee.
The 53-year-old Fisher interviewed twice with the Rams, once in Denver with owner Stan Kroenke and again in St. Louis when he toured facilities and met with quarterback Sam Bradford.
Fisher is widely considered the top prize in this winter’s coaching-search sweepstakes.
His long stint in Tennessee included a Super Bowl matchup against the Rams in 2000 in which Tennessee fell 1 yard shy of forcing overtime in a 23-16 loss. The Titans won three division titles and made six playoff appearances under Fisher, who stepped down a year ago as the league’s longest-tenured coach, saying he needed a break.
St. Louis’ offer may have trumped Miami’s for several reasons. Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 and is considered a franchise-type player despite an injury-plagued, unproductive 2011. The Rams have the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft and a favorable salary-cap situation.
In addition, Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff is the son of Fisher’s agent, Marvin Demoff.
The Rams might offer more power, too. The franchise is replacing both coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney, while the Dolphins have GM Jeff Ireland in place.
“I’m pumped,” fullback Britt Miller told the Associated Press. “I figured that because he wanted a little more control that Miami was probably not the place for him. I’m really pumped.”
Fisher inherits a franchise with a recent history of futility. The Rams have totaled 15 victories the last five seasons under Scott Linehan, interim coach Jim Haslett and Spagnuolo.
On the plus side: Although the 49ers won 13 games this year, the NFC West is perhaps the weakest division in the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks won it last year with a 7-9 record, beating the Rams in a tiebreaker.
St. Louis opted for an experienced hand after failing with Spagnuolo, a former defensive coordinator who was 10-38 in three seasons. The Rams interviewed several assistant coaches, including Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski on Thursday in Denver, and were en route to San Francisco to interview Saints assistant Aaron Kromer when news of the deal surfaced.
St. Louis was considered a franchise on the rise after making a six-win improvement in 2010 and playing for the NFC West title in the finale, but was a total flop in 2011. The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2003, and they had the NFL’s worst offense last season.