ST. LOUIS -- When it comes to creating a safe and happy work environment for the St. Louis Rams, it starts and stops with head coach Jeff Fisher.
Teams around the league handle building a strong workplace atmosphere in different ways. Some coaches lean on things like leadership councils or trust in their players to police themselves. But Fisher has been doing this for nearly two decades and, if you include his playing career, he has been involved in NFL locker rooms for far more than 20 years.
In that time, Fisher has developed a philosophy of allowing his players only as much leeway as they earn and holds the trump card on when it's time to put the kibosh on certain things or step in to cut something off.
From the moment his players enter the building, Fisher said he does everything he can to immediately establish ground rules with little to no gray area.
“I can say that we’ve established that here," Fisher said. "Yeah, guys will ask rookies to carry their helmets in from practice, but we make it clear to the rookies and the veterans that this is a business environment and the rookies are here to help us win and everyone here is treated with respect. At the same time, it’s OK to have fun."
There is no shortage of fun in the Rams' building. Over the summer, fans were privy to some of the pranks and jokes that go on in the NFL locker room when a number of Rams players included them in the action via social media.
Smack Cam, a game in which players would hit unsuspecting victims with whipped cream pies, preferably when there was a camera on them, was wildly popular amongst players with veterans such as Chris Long and Cortland Finnegan serving as the ringleaders. The game was played only on a voluntary basis and clear rules were set before it started.
At the time, Fisher chuckled when asked about it but also made it clear that the game would come to an end under his directive.
"You guys witnessed firsthand the pie thing with ‘Cort’ and Chris and stuff like that," Fisher said. "It’s OK to have fun, but it’s my job to make sure that you keep a lid on things. The pie thing got to the point where it’s probably enough now because someone’s going to scheme something else up. I think it’s important to come in here and look forward to coming to work and have fun. But, respect factors are the things we preach here.”
It's worth noting, too, that in Fisher's first two years in St. Louis there have been no discernible rookie hazing tactics that go beyond something like a silly haircut or a basic thing like picking up breakfast for a position group. In fact, none of the Rams involved with Smack Cam were rookies and they don't even have to stand up and sing in front of the rest of the team like many rookies used to.
When the regular season arrives, Fisher prefers that his team buckles down. And though he talks to his leaders and assistant coaches, he said he constantly has his finger on the pulse of the locker room.
“I go through the locker room," Fisher said. "I talk to the players individually and walk through stretch and have got coaches and equipment guys. There’s nothing that’s going on that we don’t know about.”