When Jeff Fisher walks onto the field at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, he will do so for the seventh time as a head coach.
Although he might not admit it publicly, this trip to Miami must feel a little different.
This time, Fisher knows South Florida could have been home had he wanted it to be.
Fisher, 54, was one of the key free agents courted by the Dolphins during the offseason
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Fired after 16-plus seasons with the Houston/Tennessee franchise after going 6-10 in 2010, Fisher became the Dolphins’ main target to replace Tony Sparano in January.
After being courted by the Rams and Dolphins, Fisher weighed his offers -- and picked St. Louis. A few days later, the Dolphins hired Packers assistant Joe Philbin to be the 10th head coach in franchise history.
The Rams (3-2) visit the Dolphins (2-3) on Sunday at 1 p.m.
On Wednesday morning, Fisher didn’t seem in the mood to revisit his recent past on a conference call with the South Florida media.
“I went through that before I don’t think it’s necessary to go through it again,” Fisher said. “I think they made the right decision, they got things going. Coach Philbin is doing an excellent job there, and I really had a great time [visiting] there.
“I have a great deal of respect for [owner Stephen] Ross and [GM Jeff] Ireland. I felt like this was a better opportunity for me.”
Fisher, who is 1-5 against the Dolphins in Miami and 3-7 against them during his career, said when he signed with St. Louis he wanted to restore the franchise to relevance.
The Rams were 2-14 last season and had won three games or fewer in four of the past five years (including a 1-15 finish in 2009). Yet in St. Louis, Fisher felt he could turn things around.
St. Louis held the second overall pick in the 2012 Draft before shipping it to Washington in exchange for three first-rounders and a second.
Changing the culture of losing with the Rams and exciting the fan base has not been easy — especially with talk the franchise could head back to Los Angeles if it doesn’t get serious (and expensive) renovations to the Edward Jones Dome.
The Rams brought NFL football back to St. Louis when they started the 1995 season at Busch Stadium before moving into the new dome later that year. The Rams spent six decades in the Los Angeles area after moving west from Cleveland in 1946.
“You know things are different,’’ said defensive end Chris Long, who has been with the Rams since being the second overall pick in 2008.
“Being 3-2 is pretty cool for us. It’s not so much the record, but to come into work every day and have that sense of purpose that we have We have a sense of empowerment — that’s something we haven’t had in the past. We thought we would do these things in camp, but we had to go out and prove it. We still have a ton to prove.”
Said Fisher: “I can’t really comment on what took place here. I had nothing to do with that. But we said this is how we’re going to do things. We got the players involved early in the offseason program, and they responded well. The players like to have fun. They look forward to coming to work and having fun.”
Although the Rams are 3-2 — over the .500 mark for the first time in six seasons — things have not gone all that smoothly.
In March, Fisher was forced to replace defensive coordinator Gregg Williams after Williams was suspended by the NFL for his role in the Saints’ bounty program.
Williams’ son Blake remains on Fisher’s staff as linebackers coach. Gregg Williams, since he is barred from working in the league, is allowed to attend Rams games as a spectator but is not allowed to have any contact with their players.
Despite the turmoil, St. Louis’ defense is ranked 14th in the league in total yards allowed (one spot higher than the Dolphins).
“When this went down, when we hired Gregg here, I had nothing to go on,” Fisher said. “I was unaware of any of this going on. Gregg was unaware as well. Had this been brought to our knowledge I would not have hired Gregg. With that being said, we got started installing our defense, Gregg was banned and we continued to install and modify.
“I said this numerous times: I think it’s easier to replace the head coach in March than the defensive coordinator. Fortunately for us, we had experienced coaches on staff ... So we did it by committee and so far it’s working.”