Since the Rams named him head coach in mid-January, Jeff Fisher hasn’t had much time to come up for air, let alone make many public appearances.
Between the NFL Draft, free agency, hiring a coaching staff and all the other facets of his high-pressure job, Fisher has spent most of his time at the ContinuityX training facility.
But the opportunity to make a presentation to the BackStoppers in St. Louis last Thursday night at the Chase Park Plaza was one that Fisher couldn’t pass up. After all, the BackStoppers represent a cause that Fisher identifies with on a number of personal levels.
The BackStoppers work tirelessly to provide financial support to the families of local police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who lose their lives in the line of duty.
In a presentation that lasted more than a half hour, Fisher gave more than 800 local BackStoppers members an inspirational message about the power of coming back from a setback.
“If any of you out there know somebody that even begins to take for granted what our service men and women and our policemen and firefighters and first responders do, you need to wake them up,” Fisher told the crowd. “This is why I was so impressed with this organization and what you do for them and for the families. A setback is a setup for a comeback.”
Rewinding a few months before the event, BackStoppers office manager Jacki Bettale and the event planners met to discuss potential keynote speakers for the dinner event.
What took place Thursday is not a gala or a fundraiser but rather a chance for all of the BackStoppers members to get together. As names were thrown around by the committee, Fisher’s name came up a couple of times and quickly moved to the top of the list.
“We were at a board meeting and brainstorming possible guest speakers,” Bettale said. “His name came up by a couple of people and everybody liked that idea and thought it would be nice since he’s new in town here, too.”
Fisher accepted the invitation and found time between all of the draft meetings and rookie minicamp planning to research the BackStoppers and come up with a presentation that would ring true to the audience.
As his new rookie class arrived on Thursday for the start of rookie minicamp, Fisher quickly made the rounds to introduce himself before hustling out to the Chase.
The chance to appear before an organization that has done so much for a cause he believes in made Fisher want to do all he could to make a strong impression.
“This organization is really, truly incredible,” Fisher said. “I have been in a number of big cities, NFL cities and I’ve never seen anything like it. I am honored to be a part of this and so very impressed with what you have done for the cause.”
After a brief introduction, Fisher took to the dais and delivered a message centered on the idea of bouncing back from adversity in every walk of life.
Fisher first recalled the loss his former Tennessee team suffered to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV when Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson just short of a game-tying touchdown.
Upon the team’s return to Nashville, it received a hero’s welcome complete with a parade. In the final stages of that parade, Fisher spotted a woman with a sign that read “A setback is a setup for a comeback.”
The quote resonated with Fisher and he mentioned it at his end of the year press conference the next day. Within three weeks, he had received a book of the same name by author Willie Jolley. Fisher quickly devoured the book and embraced its message, a message he connected to the work of the BackStoppers.
“In the book he talks about everybody loves a comeback story and talks about during the actual setback, your comeback is already taking place,” Fisher said. “The mission of this organization is to provide the comeback for the families. That’s the mission. It’s very clear, very obvious.”
Fisher went on to cite other examples where that message has been near and dear to him in the years since he first saw it, including:
- A USO trip to Baghdad he took with other head coaches in which he witnessed a missile attack of a building Saddam Hussein commissioned to celebrate (pre maturely) a victory over the United States.
- The story of his friend Will Jimeno, a Port Authority police officer who was trapped in the south tower on Sept. 11, 2001 and survived after it had been assumed he wouldn’t make it.
- His own journey to return to the NFL after stepping away from the game more than a year ago which included a trip to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro with four soldiers from the Wounded Warriors program.
Fisher then presented a slideshow from the trip to the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro and discussed the affect it had on him.
The speech drew rave reviews from the BackStoppers members in attendance.
“What I heard from people was that it was very uplifting,” Bettale said. “I thought people really enjoyed Coach Fisher. I appreciated that the very first thing he said was something about first responders. That’s the important thing for our guest speakers is no matter what their background is, the families that we help, there are a lot of first responders there so the speaker needs to tie their talk into our organization and what we do. He did that right off the bat and I was very pleased about that.”
Colonel Ron Battelle, who is now the Executive Director of the BackStoppers and the retired Chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, echoed those sentiments.
“When you have a setback, you have to look for inspiration to comeback from your setback,” Battelle said. “He tied that in with us and our families that have lost loved ones in the line of duty. I thought he did an excellent job of that and he did an excellent slide presentation of his experience there. It was great.”
While Fisher had to return to work with his rookies, he made enough of an impression that he figures to be involved with the BackStoppers in future endeavors.
In fact, Fisher said he attempted to get Jimeno to appear with him last week but promised an appearance by Jimeno as next year’s featured speaker.
The BackStoppers also announced a fundraising drive for an education fund that hopes to raise $5 million over the next five years.
All told, it was a great night for an organization that’s devoted to a wonderful cause and a powerful showing in one of Fisher’s first public appearances.
“It was an outstanding night with probably our biggest crowd ever,” Battelle said. ‘We had more than 800 people there and he was well received and very impressive. I think he’ll be an excellent representative for the Rams as well; we’re looking forward to him having an excellent season as well.”
That was another sentiment on which Fisher and the BackStoppers see things the same way. As he signed off for the night, the head coach couldn’t help but throw in what he hopes will be his next example of a comeback.
“In keeping with the theme, the Rams are going to make a comeback, too,” Fisher said. “A big comeback.”
For more information on the BackStoppers and how you can make a donation, visit www.BackStoppers.org.