Word is currently circulating that Jeff Fisher is going to wait until Friday to decide on whether he's going to coach the Dolphins or Rams next season. That's certainly great news for those of you who have been anxiously (i.e., going nuts) waiting for Fisher to make up his mind and a pick an employer, but are you really surprised by the carnival-like turn taken by this potential hire during the last week and a half? Didn't this coaching search begin with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross pitting general manager Jeff Ireland and "consultant" Carl Peterson against each other in a creepy, Saw-like search for a head coach? "Let's play a game: Find me a head coach ... or die."
You had to figure then that things were going to get weird at some point during this process ... and we're officially at that juncture. Yep, the Dolphins--underachievers with a heart of gold--in competition with a Rams organization that A) may be skipping town sooner than later, and B) won two games this season. What gives? Is the presence of Ireland and Peterson really that bad? Are the Dolphins being punished for not having a franchise quarterback in place? How are we actually in danger of losing our No.1 coaching candidate to the freaking St. Louis Rams!?
Sorry to say, but the points mentioned above have probably had an effect on Fisher's decision, though we'd like to think otherwise. Miami's quarterback situation, long term, is still a mess, and the Dolphins' current front office might as well be run by the Keystone Cops. Still, there are plenty of factors in this dilemma that are quite simply out of Miami's hands. Let's break down each destination to get a better understanding of why the hell Dolphins fans are still waiting on Jeff Fisher to make up his mind.
Let's make something absolutely clear before we continue here: Miami is an excellent coaching destination (despite the two boner boys working under Ross right now) with boatloads of talent on both sides of the ball. Forget about the 0-7 start for Miami in 2011 and focus on the "meaningless" wins these guys pulled out during the second half of the season. The Dolphins have quality pieces on the offensive line, a Pro Bowl wide receiver, a dangerous backfield, a highly impressive front seven on defense, and a handful of talent (i.e., Vontae Davis) in the secondary. That set-up is nothing to scoff at, and it's hard to imagine Jeff Fisher looking at the Dolphins' defensive roster and thinking, "Meh, I could take it or leave it." But that's just it--he can take or leave the Dolphins' defense, because they're not necessarily a team suited for Jeff Fisher. Miami currently runs a 3-4 defensive scheme (very un-Fisher-like) and thrives on the size and strength they currently have going in the trenches (nose tackle Paul Soliai, defensive ends Kendall Langford, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick, etc.). Jeff Fisher is a 4-3 guy whose defenses have been typically built around a play-making, intelligent mike linebacker and a heavy-handed pass rush off the edge. If Fisher were to land in Miami and flip the defensive scheme, who's going to be that mike linebacker? Could Cameron Wake kick over to defensive end and give Fisher the Jevon-Kearse-like production that he worked with in Tennessee. Tough call.
Make no mistake, though, the Dolphins' defense could roll out of bed and execute the 4-3 scheme at a much higher level than what the Rams achieved over the last few years, and Mike Nolan has indeed used some 4-3 looks during his time as Dolphins defensive coordinator. At this point, it's purely a question of whether or not Fisher wants to go through the work of converting Miami's defensive personnel back to four down linemen and three linebackers.
And then there's the quarterback situation in Miami--the bane of every Dolphins fan's existence right now. Nothing about Matt Moore screams "long-term starter," and that means Fisher would have to make drafting a quarterback a very high priority for the Dolphins. Yes, new regimes want to find their signal caller in the draft, but part of Fisher's original criteria was the request that a quarterback already be in place on the roster. This is clearly a coaching candidate who wants to hit the ground running and not waste his time grooming a rookie quarterback. I'd like to think that Matt Moore could tide Fisher over for a season (provided what we do in the draft this spring), but that might be a bit of a stretch.
Then again, the Dolphins are currently built in the mode of a power rushing attack, and that's pretty much a must-have on any Jeff-Fisher-coached team. Think about Eddie George's best years in Houston/Tennessee, as well as the way the Titans used Chris Johnson like he was going out of style during his 2008 rookie season. Those teams wanted to bust the run down their opponents' throats every Sunday ... and they often succeeded in doing so. Miami has the pieces in place to do that week in and week out, but would that be enough to sway Fisher to make the move to South Florida?
St. Louis Rams
Ah, the Dolphins' lone competitor (unless the rumors about Fisher waiting for Indianapolis are true). St. Louis isn't terribly far from Fisher's last coaching gig in Tennessee, and unlike the Dolphins, the Rams do have a franchise quarterback in place. Now, Sam Bradford didn't exactly overwhelm Rams fans with his on-field contributions this season, but he's a former No.1 overall draft pick and the reigning NFL Rookie of the Year (for now, at least), so the upside and potential are certainly there for Bradford. Unfortunately for the Rams, their quarterback is one of maybe three players on the roster with actual upside.
The Rams' 4-3 scheme, while downtrodden, could also appeal to Fisher. Defensive end Chris Long has been very good for the Rams since he was selected No.2 overall in the 2008 draft, and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has been the lone bright spot in St. Louis' linebacker corps since his arrival in 2009. So ... are any of you noticing anything here? Anything at all? Sure, I'll wait while you think about it ... Come to the next paragraph once you've got it.
Welcome back. As you now know, St. Louis might be almost completely bereft of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but the two impact players they do have on the roster are a quality pass rusher and middle linebacker--the positions that Fisher wanted to build around while in Tennessee. Could those two players swing Fisher's decision toward the Rams? Yeah, I think they could.
The redeeming characteristics in St. Louis end there, however. St. Louis' offensive line was a catastrophe this season, and their ever-brittle backfield isn't something Fisher can depend on (remember, he wants a powerful ground game). Meanwhile, the Rams receiver corps is in dire need of an overhaul, and their secondary was an absolute infirmary in 2011 (I think they managed to place something like 10 defensive backs on injured reserve this season. That's absurd). If Fisher plans to rebuild the Rams' roster, he's going to need more than one contract to get it done.
The Rams are currently without a general manager, too, but that might actually be a plus for Fisher, who could potentially get one of his guys (Lake Dawson, VP of football operations in Tennessee has been mentioned repeatedly as a candidate over the last few weeks). Given what Fisher went through while working under Bud Adams in Tennessee, you can't really blame him for wanting more of a say in personnel matters.
And then there's the issue of St. Louis potentially relocating to Los Angeles sometime within the next few years. Fisher is reportedly uneasy with the idea of coaching a team that might move to another city (he's done it once already, mind you), and rightfully so. If you're taking the St. Louis Rams' head coaching position because you like the location, a move to Los Angeles is the last thing you want to see happen. The Dolphins' meanwhile, aren't going anywhere, and maybe that will be the clincher in the team's attempt to acquire Fisher's services.
If Jeff Fisher is looking for familiarity (4-3 defense with pass rusher and middle linebacker pre-installed) and a quarterback, then his next head coaching destination should be in St. Louis. However, if Fisher wants a young, fearsome defense, franchise stability and an owner who will gladly empty his pockets for his new head coach, then Miami will be the place for Fisher.