Monday's announcement that the Los Angeles Rams would be parting ways with head coach Jeff Fisher after nearly five seasons with the team was a "pretty emotional" day for John Fassel, the club's special teams coordinator who was elevated to interim head coach in Fisher's place.
"I was pretty emotional, mostly just because I have the utmost respect and love for coach Fisher, so initially it was just a bummer that the guy that I really respect and admire just lost his job," Fassel told Seattle-area media via conference call on Tuesday. "Then having to switch over quickly to figuring out how to do this on the fly. It's been emotional, which is a good thing, I think."
Fassel said there was a "somber" mood surrounding the team after yesterday's news that Fisher, who compiled a 31-45-1 record with the Rams, and Los Angeles would be parting ways.
"It was really quiet for quite a few hours, especially in our install meetings it was very businesslike," he said. "But there's no doubt the human element, guys are sad, really, because all the players loved coach Fisher, he treated them great.
"We got out to the practice field, just being outside on the grass kind of elevates the mood all the time. The players are super resilient, so I anticipate they'll go out there and put it all on the line for themselves and for the team, and particularly for coach Fisher."
Rams quarterback Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, added of Fisher's departure: "We had a great relationship and talked often, so it'll suck not having him around and having a chance to communicate with him, having his support. But at the same time we need to move on and play well this week. I said it yesterday, but I don't think anybody is rooting for us more than he is."
Fassel, who's been in charge of the Rams' special teams unit since 2012 — Fisher's first year as head coach, has no experience at the head-coaching level in the NFL. But he takes over the top job in Los Angeles just days before a Thursday Night Football matchup against the NFC West-leading Seahawks. Fassel said he'll lean on his assistant coaching staff, specifically defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, assistant head coach/offense Rob Boras, and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis to ready for Week 15 in Seattle.
"I don't feel daunted," Fassel said. "The only thing is really the short week just accelerates all the installs and all the work. So other than that, it's just a good group of hungry players."
Said Goff: "Our mindset hasn't changed. We need to go out and win. If there was ever a good reason to get a win on a short week it's this one. The best time to win is now."
As a special teams coach for the Rams, Fassel said he's had the opportunity to work with nearly every player on Los Angeles' roster. It's a quality he believes will benefit him as he performs his interim head coaching duties while allowing his assistant coaches to continue to concentrate on the offensive and defensive sides of the football.
"I think special teams coaches — from a biased perspective — have a good feel for talking to the team and being able to focus on gameday on situations because they're not swamped on maybe the play calling as much," Fassel said.
Los Angeles jumped out to a 3-1 start this year, including a 9-3 home win in Week 2 over the Seahawks. But the team went on to lose eight of its next nine contests, and Fisher's departure came the day after a 42-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons that dropped the Rams to a 4-9 record. The 2016 season has been an adventurous one for the Rams, who relocated from St. Louis in the offseason, something Fassel allowed himself to reflect upon in light of recent events.
"I didn't drive home last night, I've been at the office here a couple nights in a row. I have had the opportunity to think about it," Fassel said. "We came out here, we were in Oxnard, then Irvine, we're out here in Thousand Oaks. Honestly, it's been a great adventure. My buddies always say it's always about the stories, we're creating some pretty incredible stories. So like I said, players and coaches are resilient. We knew what we were getting into when we signed up to coach and when we signed up to move out here with the Rams, they've treated us great. So yeah, it's been quite an adventure. And there's a couple more weeks left to finish the last chapter. Hopefully we'll do all right."
While Fassel admitted a head coaching job in the NFL was never truly an aspiration of his, he has been around those in head-coaching positions — and the game of football in general — since a very early age. His father, Jim, is a former head coach of the New York Giants who led the team to an NFC Championship in 2000. The younger Fassel said he spent plenty of time roaming his father's sidelines, and this week in Seattle the tables will be turned, with Jim making the trip to the Pacific Northwest to witness his son's game against the Seahawks.
"I've been on the sideline forever with my dad," Fassel said. "When I grew up he was in college and when he became a head coach I was out of college coaching on my own. So I spent years and years, 100 games, on the sideline holding his chord or catching punts. Now to flip it around, he's going to come out there and he's going to be at the game, he's going to fly out. He was super proud and it's pretty unique to think of my dad now on the sideline and me coaching. It's kind of cool, but pretty weird."
Fassel said being on the sideline with his father for all those games taught him how to adapt and persevere through tough times.
"It was just a great experience growing up in football and learning how great it is, but also learning to be able to adapt and how to persevere through tough times," he said. "And it seems like every season you have all of that every time, there's going to be struggles. Duty calls."
An avid triathlete who’s competed in three ironman distance triathlons, Fassel likened the competitions to the way the Rams' season has played out so far.
"I just loved to run and ride, but going through that, honestly, the Ironman was just a beatdown," he said. "The couple times I did it I was hurting bad at the end. I was just an amateur, of course, so I just told myself I've trained this hard and this long, I am not stopping short of that finish line. And if you want to correlate it, that's kind of the mindset I've got right now and hopefully all the players here have is, we've come this far with the move and all the different places we've been, significant travel for road games, we've come this far. We're not going to stop short of the finish line. We'll see what happens."