For Fisher, a big part of coaching is keeping up with youth of America

56 minutes ago • By Jim Thomas jthomas@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8197

When Jeff Fisher began his coaching career in 1995 with the Houston Oilers, he said he spent 80 percent of his time on X’s-and-O’s and 20 percent on everything else. With “everything else” consisting mainly of dealing with players.

Eighteen years _ or basically a generation _ later, Fisher said those percentages have flipped to where it’s 20 percent X’s-and-O’s and 80 percent dealing with players.

“Therein lies the importance of putting together a staff that you can trust _ that I can trust to go out and get things done on a daily basis,” Fisher said. “I supervise. I oversee things. I obviously manage things on Sunday. But it’s the staff that deserves the credit _ that I rely so heavily upon to get the things done.”

Fisher made his remarks Monday morning at the St. Louis Airport Hilton, where he was keynote speaker for the AAIM Employers Association leadership conference. Much of what Fisher told the packed ballroom had crossover value to the general business world. But it also provided insight into his management and leadership style as head coach of the Rams.

Fisher told the gathering that dealing with today’s generation of player is much different than it was back in his Houston days. Especially since he’s coaching what could be the youngest team in the NFL for the second year in a row.

“It takes a lot more energy from my position and my perspective to be able to make sure that they are emotionally, mentally, and physically ready to play on Sunday,” Fisher said.

For 2013, that process began in earnest later Thursday when nearly 60 rookies reported to Rams Park for rookie minicamp over the weekend. The group consists of seven draft picks, 22 rookie free agents, and nearly 30 players invited on a tryout basis only.

As soon as they walk through the door, Fisher said his goal was to try to establish a personal relationship “with each and every one of them.”

When trust is established and it becomes reciprocal, team chemistry is formed. Laying the foundation of team chemistry was a highlight of the 2012 season for Fisher.

“From a chemistry standpoint, of all the things that happened to this organization, that was the thing that I was most proud about _ creating that environment,” Fisher said.

Getting through to the players, many of whom aren’t that far removed from their teen-age years, can be exasperating at times for a coach with an old-school mindset.

“We’re in the catch-up mode every day on the social media,” Fisher said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

That’s especially true, he said, when it comes to Twitter.

“It’s like, ‘Dude. Don’t push send now. Unless you’re sure,’ ” Fisher said. “I showed them some stuff a couple weeks ago. It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. What are you thinking? You might as well call a press conference.’ ”

Part off getting through to players, and part of building team chemistry, is having a team understand the difference between hearing and listening. To drive home that point, Fisher brought in eight deaf and mute students _ along with an interpreter _ to meet with the players just before the start of the 2012 Rams season.

Each student asked a Rams player a question through the interpreter using sign language. And each player’s answer was relayed back to the students through the interpreter’s sign language.

“You know that their world is completely silent,” Fisher said he told the team. “They cannot hear. All they can do is listen (through sign language).

“It was a powerful moment for the football team, but (the) point that was made is that we have no chance to be successful unless you listen.”

Sometimes, Fisher takes a more humorous course to get a point across.

“We had a player last year, a rookie, that was having a little difficulty with the snooze button _ OK? _ on the alarm. And he’d been late,” Fisher said. “We have a policy. If you’re late for a team meeting, wait outside. You can’t come in. Because you just don’t walk in late.”

After the first meeting was over the player walked into a second meeting _ one that Fisher was running.

“The players are all out there, I’m standing up there at the podium, and they’re all ready to go,” Fisher said. “I walk out the door and I come in and I bring a lamp. And I put the lamp down. And then I go back out and I get a pillow and a blanket and I set it in the corner. And then I get milk and cookies and I set it in the corner.

“And the players, they’re just sitting out there going, ‘Coach has lost his mind.’ ”

Not exactly.

“Since you’re having a hard time getting up in the morning, you’re gonna sleep here all week,” Fisher told the player. “And we’ll wake you up in the morning and you’ll be right in the meetings!”

The anecdote drew the loudest laughter of Fisher’s speech. But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Weeks passed. The player was punctual. . .until he showed up late again, saying he had run out of gas.

Once again, Fisher went to the props.

“I brought a gas can in (to the meeting room) _ and I brought it right where his ‘bedroom’ was,” Fisher said. “I said, ‘the price of oil per barrel just went up. That’s a $19,000 gas can there.’

‘That’s what I fined him for being late the second time.”

There was no laughter this time from the crowd. Just gasps. For most people _ and some rookies _ $19,000 is a lot of money.