After a rising tide of turmoil culminating in a humiliating home loss to the Falcons, the Rams have parted ways with coach Jeff Fisher. The big remaining question: Who will replace him? (And will Jim Harbaugh pick up the phone?)
The obvious question I had when I wrapped up the reporting on my Rams column last week: What would it take for coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead to save their jobs?
Wins would help, but that wasn’t really it.
It was explained by one person that Fisher and Snead had to prove they could work together and facilitate a healthy environment inside the building. Another said the Rams had to show they weren’t—and this is the term he used—a “clown show”. The collapse following a 3-1 start was bad enough. The ominous feel inside “Rams Junior High” was worse.
Then, the Falcons game happened.
The Rams fumbled the opening kickoff and yielded a touchdown on the next play. Later in the first quarter, they allowed Atlanta to embark on an 88-yard touchdown drive, despite the Falcons going at it without their two best receivers. Then there was a pick-six. After that the stadium started to empty, and the punchlines flowed.
Somehow, what transpired post-game might have made it worse. In a week during which organizational in-fighting was exposed, the man whose face was plastered all over Southern California this spring and summer as the team returned to L.A.—Todd Gurley—went in on the whole operation.
First he called the offense “middle school”, which seemed like no coincidence given the existing storyline. Then Gurley added, “We're just going through the motions. It looks like everybody's just playing to get through."
So the clown show on the field had given way to a star player conceding that those drawing paychecks from Stan Kroenke were all just, sort of, doing their own thing. It was time to draw up the divorce papers.
At that point the only thing that might have saved Jeff Fisher’s job was the fact that the Rams were going into a short week, and pulling off that kind of change would be a logistical challenge. In the end, even that wasn’t enough, which tells you that management didn’t feel it had much choice left to make.
So where do the Rams go from here?
First of all, they have a decision to make on Snead and his personnel staff. Over the last few months there was a feeling in league circles that Fisher would try to push Snead out and encourage the Rams to bring in a strong voice, like Bill Polian (Fisher’s old friend from the competition committee), to realign the football side of the organization.
Additionally, coaches openly complained about depth issues on the roster, and those complaints certainly made their way up the corporate ladder. There’s no question there’s a talented young core at the top of the roster—the Rams did have back-to-back rookies of the year in 2014 and ’15. What’s harder to tell is whether that’ll be enough to save Snead.
The second piece of this—the impending coaching search—plays right into the first, and could be the death knell for those remaining. Imposing a sitting GM on your next coach will necessarily shallow your pool of candidates. How much is a variable, but there will be coaches who won’t want to inherit someone else’s GM.
When the Rams do get to that next phase of this, they’ll have elements to sell (Los Angeles, Gurley/Aaron Donald/Alec Ogletree, and for some Jared Goff). It should be even clearer what they have to buy. And that’s a coach who will come in and shake the place up.
Those on the personnel side were vocal about what was seen as a country-club environment in the locker room. The team wasn’t hitting enough in practice, according to some; offensive players, and particularly those along the line, weren’t being developed, according to others; And there was a general lack of accountability permeating from Fisher’s players’-coach ways, according to many.
In short, on the surface, the Rams need to find a modern version of Bill Parcells.
Perfect would be Jim Harbaugh, who’s always steered focus to fundamentals and discipline, has history developing quarterbacks, and has California ties and would probably love to shove it up the Niners’ behind. I’d expect at least a phone call would be made, but (to be abundantly clear) there’s no indication Harbaugh is ready to leave his alma mater to return to the NFL.
Another collegiate name I believe the Rams will inquire about: Stanford’s David Shaw, who (like Harbaugh) is at his alma mater and hasn’t shown an inclination to leave.
And Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Falcons OC Kyle Shanahan are two others that make logical sense for some of the same reasons Harbaugh does.
As for the rest of the 2016 season, consider this: Over the last two weeks alone the Rams have dealt with Fisher bickering with franchise icon Eric Dickerson, Fisher fouling up the names of the Patriots’ running backs on a conference call, and Fisher’s problems with Snead and the scouting staff bubbling to the surface. Even if they go 0-3 to close out the year, it can’t get much worse that it already is.
Which tells you everything about why this needed to happen now.
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