Fisher in second tier of coach rankings

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- For a coach who has yet to take the St. Louis Rams to the playoffs and hasn't won a postseason game since 2003, Jeff Fisher commands plenty of respect in the latest in-depth project from ESPN Insider Mike Sando.

Sando spoke to 30 NFL people -- eight current general managers, four former GMs, four personnel directors, four executives, six coordinators and four position coaches -- in an effort to put the league's current head coaches into tiers. Each panelist was asked to grade each coach on a scale of one to five with one being the best and five the worst.

When all was said and done, Fisher came in at an average of 2.10. That put him squarely in the second tier of coaches and ranked at No. 11 overall. For what it's worth, Fisher received six first-tier votes, 15 second-tier votes and nine third-tier votes. By way of comparison, New England's Bill Belichick finished first with 28 first-tier votes and two second-tier votes.

As you might expect based on his votes, the positive support for Fisher came from those who see him as a master motivator and strong delegator capable of getting his teams to play hard enough to be competitive regardless of talent.

An excerpt from Sando's piece:

A former GM lauded Fisher as an outstanding in-game manager. "You know what you're getting with Fisher and the message stays the same," a personnel evaluator said. "He's got an identity for his teams. Whether it is Gregg Williams' or his, you know they are going to be coached up and play their a--es off."

On the other side of the coin, Fisher was downgraded by some voters for a somewhat middling record for a coach who has been around as long as Fisher. One criticism of Fisher was that he was better off strictly coaching with a general manager making all the roster decisions like he once had with Floyd Reese in Tennessee.

Another excerpt offering some criticism of Fisher.

A coordinator put it this way: "Fisher has been a head coach a long time and won games, and there has been more positive than negative, but they treat him like he has 10 Super Bowls."

Still, for whatever reasons voters had to downgrade Fisher, they weren't too harsh about it considering he still comfortable checked in on the second tier and at No. 11 amongst the 32 coaches. In my view, he deserves credit for elevating the Rams from awful to mediocre but the next step for him will be to take the Rams beyond that mediocrity and into prominence. If he can do that in the league's best division without his starting quarterback, he'll probably rise in these rankings should Sando revisit them next year.