They said he was a "players coach," but even the players couldn't save Coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher was fired on Monday morning by the Los Angeles Rams, less than 24 hours after his players defended him in an embarrassing 42-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
Rams veteran offensive lineman Rodger Saffold talked about Fisher after the game on Sunday, and as a player who was with the Rams pre-Fisher, he said that the players have to take responsibility.
"I've seen the 2-14 team, I've seen the 7-8-1 team that had a chance to go the playoffs—I've seen it all," Saffold said at his locker. "Eventually, something's going to have to change. I'll tell you right now, the coaches are coaching their ass off. And if we can't execute, then they get blamed. I'm sick of hearing that. It's up to us."
Unfortunately, it wasn't up to them. It was up to Rams' Owner Stan Kroenke and Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff, and after seeing a half-empty stadium with their team down 42-0 to start the fourth quarter, they decided enough was enough.
"He's a players coach, he gave us every opportunity and we didn't get it done," said safety T.J. McDonald on Monday after hearing the news. "We carry a big responsibility for what happened."
The former USC All-American was especially emotional at his locker as he discussed his fellow Trojan alum and now former head coach.
"Coach Fish gave me my chance and drafted me," added McDonald. "I love Coach Fish. I think I speak for everyone in the locker room when I say I have nothing but love for him."
Others in the Rams locker room at the team's practice facility ushered the same sentiments about Fisher, including the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Aaron Donald.
"We feel like we let him down," said Donald at his locker. "When things aren't going right you look at the leader, but we're out there playing the game. We're making the mistakes and we need to fix it. No matter who's coaching, we have to be the best football players we can."
When asked if he thought it was Fisher's fault that the team had fallen to 4-9 this season and struggled in their last few games—all lopsided losses—Donald was defiant in his answer.
"No!" he exclaimed. "Coaches coach and players play. That's on us, we have to be more consistent."
On the practice field, the players were eerily quiet as the voice of their leader was glaringly absent in the afternoon.
"Today was hard," said starting quarterback Jared Goff. "It wasn't easy. It was weird. Coach Fisher always treated us the right way, and we let him down."
"Get away from my locker," running back Todd Gurley told reporters who gathered around him. "I'm not talking today and you can tweet that."
Fisher addressed his players shortly after he was informed of the owner's decision that the team would move on without him, and according to those in the room, it was a very emotional meeting.
"He stood up in front of the room like a man, told us he cared about us, said it was tough we couldn't get it done, but wants us to finish the season strong," McDonald said of the moment.
"He talked to us from the heart," added Donald. "He stood strong and talked to us like a man. Anytime you lose a leader like that, you're going to be down about it, but we got to keep on playing for him."
It was a whirlwind 24 hours for the players and will be a roller coaster of emotions in the next 48 as they have to gather their thoughts and get on a plane to Seattle to face the NFC West-leading Seahawks in a primetime matchup on NBC's Thursday Night Football.
The last word of the afternoon came from Goff who was asked if there was a lesson he learned from all of this. The 22-year-old play caller paused, and then gave a poignant retort.
"The number one lesson I learned, is that in this league things can go away quickly," he said. "One day you're here and one day you're not. Unfortunately, we learned that the hard way and some guys got a chance to see that."