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Fisher ready for challenge of rebuilding the Rams

By R.b. Fallstrom

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 17 2012 3:16 p.m. MST

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford answers questions at a news conference where Jeff Fisher was officially introduced as the new head football coach of the St. Louis Rams NFL team, in St. Louis, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2012.

Tom Gannam, Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — After a year off, Jeff Fisher says he is refreshed and ready to take on the challenge in St. Louis.

Fisher was formally introduced as the new coach of the Rams on Tuesday after signing a five-year contract. He chose the Rams over the Dolphins.

"My decision was very, very simple," he said. "It was based on a shared collective vision in restoring this franchise to a place of significance. It was that vision that made my decision very, very easy."

Owner Stan Kroenke said the contract will keep Fisher in place "for a good while."

"I think the more we talked the more comfortable we got," Kroenke said. "Jeff was absolutely what we were looking for. I told him that early on. He's a great coach, a great leader."

Added chief operating officer Kevin Demoff: "The time was now for a bold statement about the future of this organization."

Fisher reportedly will be paid $7 million per season but said his decision hinged on non-economic issues such as the franchise's plan moving forward, and the makeup of the coaching staff and front office.

Fisher said reports the Dolphins were his first choice were not true. And despite the Rams' struggles in recent seasons, Fisher said he doesn't think they're that far off. He said the Rams have holes but didn't want to discuss specifics.

Fisher said the possibility of the Rams relocating was not a major factor in his decision. Kroenke can move the franchise after the 2014 season if the Edward Jones Dome is not deemed among the top quarter of stadiums in the NFL.

Kroenke was non-committal on the issue, noting that the city's Convention and Visitors Commission is due to make a proposal for potential upgrades on Feb. 1. He did make a reference to his investment in St. Louis.

"I've been around here a long time," Kroenke said. "Contrary to a lot of reports, I haven't taken a lot of jack out of the market. I have put a lot of jack into the market. We'll see how that process works out."

Fisher will have a role in the hiring of a general manager, and said several times that decision-making will be a collaborative effort. The Rams have targeted about a dozen candidates, a handful of whom they've already interviewed.

The Rams did not confirm any assistant coaches, although it's been widely reported that Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has agreed to join Fisher in that role. Fisher said only that he had some "very good options."

Fisher inherits a franchise with a recent history of futility. The Rams have totaled just 15 victories the last five seasons under Scott Linehan, interim coach Jim Haslett and Steve Spagnuolo.

The 53-year-old Fisher sat out the 2011 season after 17 years in Tennessee. His long stint with the Titans 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.

Yet after the Rams fired Spagnuolo, Fisher's name immediately jumped to the top of the search list.

The Rams had an advantage in the bidding against the Dolphins since the new coach's agent is Marvin Demoff, Kevin's father. Former coach Dick Vermeil was a consultant in the process, with Kroenke playing an active role.

Kevin Demoff said the relationship was beneficial as an ice-breaker, but afterward the Rams' offer stood on its own.

Fisher was interviewed twice, once in Denver where Kroenke owns the Nuggets and Avalanche, and again in St. Louis where he toured facilities and met with quarterback Sam Bradford. Kroenke clearly wanted an experienced hand; Spagnuolo and Linehan both came to St. Louis untested beyond coordinator duties. Spagnuolo, fired along with general manager Billy Devaney, was just 10-38 in three seasons.

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, playing a brutal schedule and decimated by injuries. The Rams haven't had a winning season since 2003, and they had the NFL's worst offense last season.

For all his longevity in Tennessee, Fisher had only six winning seasons, and a succession of 8-8 finishes brought out the critics. His most recent playoff victory came in January 2004, and his most recent winning record was in 2008 when the Titans squandered the No. 1 seed in the AFC by losing in the divisional round.

But Fisher led his team to at least 12 wins four times, and his career record is 142-120 (.542). He coached more games for one franchise than all but six coaches, all Hall of Famers.

The Rams have the second pick in the April draft after a 2-14 season that tied for the league's worst. It'll be the fourth time in five seasons with either the first or second pick. Fisher also inherits a handful of franchise types including Bradford, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis.

Bradford was the top overall pick in 2010 and was the NFL offensive rookie of the year, although last year he missed six games with a high left ankle sprain and threw only six touchdown passes. Bradford got punished more in Josh McDaniels' offense, which featured long-developing pass plays that stressed a line that ended the year with three players on injured reserve. McDaniels is also gone.

Jackson shows no signs of slowing down with a franchise-record seven consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Long developed into one of the NFL's top pass rush threats and Laurinaitis has led the team in tackles all three of his seasons.

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