The start of the football season is still months away, but Rams head coach Jeff Fisher doesn’t have much time to spare: Right now, it’s free-agency season, followed by college-draft season and then mini-camp, etc. There always is something. It’s hard to find time to be a regular guy when you’re a coach in the NFL.
Recently, his office staff carved out a half-hour for Ladue News. He meets me with staff photographer Sarah Crowder in the TV studio of the Rams’ Earth City headquarters. Dressed in an open collar and sport coat, the coach obliges with some poses for the camera. As football coaches go, he’s more comfortable in front of the camera than some I’ve met, but sitting for a photo shoot is never quite normal. Our photographer suggests, “How about a big smile this time?” But Fisher replies with a firm jaw, “This is it.”
You might think that all NFL coaches spend every waking moment hyper-focused solely on the minutiae of the sport, but it’s a typecast Fisher tries not to live up to. “You have to make time—that’s an important thing,” he says. “When you leave here, you need to be able to go home. It doesn’t need to be a race to see who can get to the office the earliest or who stays the longest.” And when he does leave the field, I’m surprised to find out he likes to unwind by cooking. Fisher also was an avid surfer; but even though he grew up in Southern California, he doesn’t look very much like a beach boy.
Fisher does look like a football coach. He ruled the sidelines for 16 seasons in Nashville as the coach of the Tennessee Titans before coming to St. Louis in 2012. After spending all that time in Music City, he’s made some friends in the country music business: He’s been “good buddies” with the members of Rascal Flatts and singer Brad Paisley for a long time. He says that getting to know music stars has given him perspective on his own ‘notoriety’ in the sports world. ”When other people meet some of these artists, they’ll say to me, I met so and so and he’s just like a normal person. The artist just happens to do something different for a living and that’s what I do: I do something different for a living—we’re all normal people.”
Despite the example, normalcy isn’t something that most people equate with coaching pro football. Most of us ‘normal’ folks will never lead a Super Bowl team onto the field like Fisher did against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, which, of course, St. Louis ended up winning.
When I ask Fisher if he doesn’t have to pinch himself sometimes to make sure he isn’t dreaming, he quickly responds, “I don’t see it that way—don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m doing. I’m very fortunate,” he says. “I look forward to going to work every morning. When I wake up, I’m motivated to—and this sounds kind of coach-ish—to get better and win every day.”
The other thing that most people normally don’t have a chance to do is raise substantial amounts of money for charity like Fisher does. “It’s rewarding, it’s needed and it’s an opportunity to take advantage of the position I’m in: to be able to give back to people who are worthwhile and need it,” he says.
Each June, Fisher hosts the Coach Fisher & Friends Celebrity Softball Game, with proceeds benefiting The Backstoppers, Mercy Ministries, Wounded Warrior Project, the Catch-A-Dream Foundation, and The Jack and J.T. Snow Scientific Research Foundation, for which he recently served as honorary chair for the organization’s second annual Adult Easter Egg Hunt. He’s also passionate about his work with Mercy Ministries, an organization that helps young women overcome drug abuse, eating disorders and sex exploitation. “I’ve seen the results first-hand,” he says. “As a matter of fact, my daughter was in a wedding of one of the Ministries’ graduates—it’s real life.”
It seems Fisher has settled in to St. Louis and is looking forward to his future here. It’s another part of his style that isn’t always the coaching norm: looking long-term instead of only at the next game. “When I made the decision to come here, I had the expectation that I was going to finish here and stay here,” he says. “This is not just a stop along the way—hopefully, this is a permanent thing for me.”
The more we talk, the more Fisher comes across as a regular guy. He might like to talk more about normal stuff; but the start of the season is just months away—and there isn’t much time to spare.
A native St. Louisan, Paul Brown is a lifelong journalist, and previously served as a broadcaster for KMOX and KTRS radios and ABC 30. His Paul Brown Media specializes in public and media relations.