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Burwell: Kroenke's biggest move is in the works ..
BY BRYAN BURWELL,
Wednesday, January 11, 2012 10:25 am
If in the beginning it was almost imperceptible, the course correction of the St. Louis Rams' organization finally is coming into rather clear view.
A little more than a year ago the franchise was coming to the end of the earnest guidance of millionaire owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, stuck on a well-intentioned, yet decidedly limited financial path that left the organization in a deep, losing rut.
Today, Stan Kroenke is well into his 17th month guiding the direction of the Rams, and there is a rather important distinction to note in how he is steering the ship. After an initially quiet start, Kroenke is starting to let you see the rather obvious differences between having a millionaire and a billionaire owner at the helm.
In the professional sports ownership business, millionaires are forced to play in the shallow end of the pool. Billionaires such as Kroenke can play anywhere they darned well please.
By his own admission, Rosenbloom said he was forced to take the frugal route in his brief tenure as the Rams' owner.
Kroenke has no such limitations. If you ever see him take an economic shortcut, it is by whim, not necessity. And in his first major decision as Rams majority owner, we're seeing that Kroenke is guiding his ship immediately into mighty deep waters in his strong pursuit of this year's "it" head-coaching candidate — Jeff Fisher.
I have no idea how the results will turn out. But if Kroenke doesn't get the Fisher King, I doubt it will be because he suddenly gulps at the sight of the big bucks it will take to win the bidding war against fellow NFL baron Stephen Ross, the deep-pockets owner of the Miami Dolphins.
Tuesday was a rather long day at Rams Park for Kroenke's lead negotiator, vice president Kevin Demoff. He made two runs to Lambert Airport to pick up general manager candidates, Lake Dawson and Les Snead, and somehow in between all of that no doubt checked in with Fisher to see if and when the discussions about money could get under way.
And I have to imagine that Kroenke has given Demoff wide latitude to get this deal done within economic reason.
This is a game Kroenke is quite familiar to playing. If winning the Jeff Fisher Sweepstakes comes down to who is willing to dig the deepest into his substantially deep pockets — and Fisher isn't looking to become the first NFL head coach to pull down sick, franchise quarterback money — Kroenke can win this game, because he's played it before. The renowned manager of Kroenke's professional soccer team in England, Arsene Wenger, earns a staggering $7 million a year to work the sidelines for Arsenal.
And while that monstrous salary doesn't even put Wenger among the top five in earnings among international soccer coaches, in NFL coaching circles his salary would put him near the top of the list.
In pro football, only New England's future Hall of Fame coach Bill Belichick ($7.5 million a year), Washington's Mike Shanahan and Seattle's Pete Carroll (both at $7 million) live in the same rarefied air as Wenger. And $7 million a year seems to be the nice round number where the Fisher bidding war probably will land when all is said and done.
When Fisher left Tennessee a year ago, he was the fourth-highest paid coach in the NFL — earning $5.75 million. So it's difficult to imagine that a man with as accomplished a coaching résumé as Fisher has would come back into coaching for anything less than what Carroll signed for to rebuild the Seahawks.
And with Ross already making it quite clear that he will not be outspent, you have to imagine that the going rate for Fisher will start north of $6 million annually.
So the good news is, Kroenke is exceedingly familiar with the territory. He didn't bat an eye to pay Wenger $7 million because he knew what the high cost of business calls for in pro soccer. Last year, he re-signed George Karl, his coach with the NBA's Denver Nuggets, to a deal that is reportedly worth somewhere between $5 million-$6 million annually.
He's not going to spit out his morning coffee when he is handed the financials on what it will take to ante up for the star-power assistant coaching staff that Fisher surely would want, because he has been in the NFL ownership business as a minority owner for more than 20 years and talks regularly to his front office pals around the league and knows the going rate.
So if he doesn't get Fisher signed — and we should know the answer to that question in the next 24 hours — it won't be because Kroenke can't hang with Ross in the battle of dueling check books.
Or at least it better not be.
I'm never one to believe that money is no object. There always is a point where even the richest man in the world will reach his breaking point. But this is simply one of those moments in which the Rams just don't want to lose this game, mostly because all the alternatives to Jeff Fisher are about as exciting as paint thinner.
If Fisher walks away from the Rams, let it be over something Kroenke can't control, such as Miami's weather, or South Beach's exotic allure, or Fisher prefers stone crabs to toasted ravioli. Short of that, there's nothing in this game the Rams can't control, including his genuine fear of franchise relocation.
Power? Double check.
Fear of moving to LA? Instead of a five-year deal, give him seven or eight.
The heightened sense of urgency in getting this deal done stems from the fact that the blood pressure of the diehards who follow the Rams will rise to catastrophic levels over the idea of life without Fisher simply because of the fear of the alternatives.
Not getting Fisher doesn't mean the world is coming to an end.
But in the short term it will certainly feel like it, because the what follows after Fisher are a bunch of names with no sizzle.
That's not always a bad thing. Look at the Washington Redskins for what can happen when you go for the sizzle instead of the steak. Remember when the Redskins went after Steve Spurrier?
And how did that work out?
There's also no money-back guarantee that Fisher is the answer, either, because fabulous brand names can fail, too (see: Jimmy Johnson's curtain call in Miami that never delivered. Joe Gibbs return engagement in DC and Mike Ditka in New Orleans).
However, signing Fisher is one of those win-win sort of transactions that rarely comes along in sports. It's also the kind of deal that is so logical that it's almost impossible for Kroenke to ignore.
In the short term, Fisher sells tickets. In the long term, if Fisher delivers on his promise to create a championship turnaround, those grateful customers turn into satisfied ones and all those empty seats in the Dome are gone forever.
That's a darned good investment.
Re: Burwell: Kroenke's biggest move is in the works ..
"fisher sells tickets"
Re: Burwell: Kroenke's biggest move is in the works ..
However, I don't really even want Fisher anymore to be honest.
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