With AFL teams folding, league names ex-Rams coach Jeff Fisher interim commissioner

The man whose firing led to the Sean McVay era with the Rams has been tabbed to breathe life into the wobbly Arena Football League.

Jeff Fisher, a longtime NFL coach and executive with deep Southern California ties, said Tuesday that he replaced AFL commissioner Lee Hutton III and became interim commissioner. Fisher is president of football operations for the Nashville Kats, one of 10 teams still operating in the league that began play April 27.

The AFL relaunched this spring with 16 teams five years after it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2019. But it soon became clear that several franchises weren’t going to last. The Minnesota Myth, Philadelphia Soul, Iowa Rampage and Georgia Force folded in the last few weeks.

“This league is good,” Fisher said. “We’re looking forward to continuing and finishing the season.”

Fisher, 66, grew up in the San Fernando Valley, playing youth football for the Reseda Rams before starring at Taft High in Woodland Hills. He played on the 1978 USC national championship team in 1978 and played four years in the NFL after the Chicago Bears drafted him in 1981.

Coaching was his true calling, and by 1991 he was back in L.A. as defensive coordinator of the Rams under John Robinson, who had been his coach at USC.

Fisher became head coach of the Houston Oilers at age 36 in 1994, and led the team to the Super Bowl after the 1999 season in their third year after they relocated to Nashville and became the Tennessee Titans.

Following a 17-year stint with that franchise, Fisher was hired by the St. Louis Rams in 2012, saying, “I’m really excited that the Rams are the best fit for me. I hope I’m the best fit for the Rams.”

He wasn’t, slogging through four losing seasons before the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 2016. While it marked a homecoming for Fisher, the losing continued. The Rams were 4-9 when he was fired with three games to play.

Enter McVay, who immediately turned the team around, going 11-5 in 2017, 13-3 with a Super Bowl berth in 2018 and a Super Bowl victory after the 2021 season.

Meanwhile, Fisher has bounced around the minor leagues. He was an executive with the short-lived Alliance of American Football in 2019 and jumped back into coaching in 2022 with the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League, which lasted all of two seasons before merging with the XFL.

Now he’s beginning the daunting task of keeping the AFL operating despite the apparent financial problems of several franchises. The most recent team to fold was the Minnesota Myth, and in an email sent Monday to players, owner Diana Hutton accused the league of attempting to sabotage the team in order to force Lee Hutton III — her husband — to resign as commissioner.

Hutton III refused to do so, but league owners ousted him Tuesday, replacing him with Fisher, whose first call might be to the NFL Network, which apparently has backed out of a deal to televise AFL games.

The NFL in March announced more than 30 AFL games would be broadcast on NFL Network, yet none have been televised and others have disappeared from the NFLN listings.

The AFL news release announcing Fisher’s hiring identified the 10 teams still operating: Albany Firebirds, Billings Outlaws, Nashville Kats, Orlando Predators, Rapid City Marshals, Salina Liberty, SW Kansas Storm, Washington Wolfpack, West Texas Desert Hawks and Wichita Regulators.

Fisher apparently expects the deck to continue to shuffle. The release goes on to say that the league “also will be speaking with other teams not mentioned, to discuss and perhaps, include them in current games/seasons.”

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