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Petty bickering need not be in the future at Rams Park
BY BERNIE MIKLASZ
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS - Rams president John Shaw is busy interviewing head- coaching candidates, and we presume that potential coaches are interviewing Shaw as well. Any coach considering a job with the Rams probably has as many questions for Shaw as he has for the coach.
The Rams' reputation took a bruising during the open feud between deposed head coach Mike Martz and front-office executives, and there is damage to repair.
How are the Rams being portrayed? Len Pasquarelli on ESPN.com wrote: "This has been a dysfunctional franchise, one fraught with infighting and influence-peddling and internecine bickering, and with considerable palace intrigue. There is a sense that everyone has his own agenda, that the various departments rarely work in concert, and that things are frayed at the seams."
That theme is being sounded by other NFL pundits. Rams Park sounds like a scary place to work, and that could chase off attractive coaching candidates.
Obviously, the Rams have been dysfunctional for a while; I've written about the situation many times. But I also believe it's important to understand why the Rams failed to function smoothly, and what can be done to correct it.
It isn't a hopeless situation. More than anything, the conniving and the chaos resulted from the ugly deterioration of the once-strong bond between Martz and director of football operations Jay Zygmunt.
In revising the executive branch following Dick Vermeil's retirement, Shaw set up a checks-and-balances system with his key employees: Martz, Zygmunt and general manager Charley Armey.
Martz was granted considerable authority over personnel matters, but he could be vetoed by Shaw, or, by extension, Zygmunt. When Martz and Zygmunt got along, there was no real disharmony. Armey felt left out in the Martz-Zygmunt alliance, but Armey retained a valuable presence in scouting. The Rams made personnel mistakes, but the errors had nothing to do with front-office feuding.
The real dysfunction set in once the Martz-Zygmunt friendship began dissolving following the Rams' upset loss to New England in the Super Bowl. And Shaw by his own admission wasn't a very good referee in the Martz-Zygmunt sparring. He let it go too far, and the relationship couldn't be saved.
While the internal problems were serious in the final two or three seasons of the Martz regime, we should recognize the root cause. If Martz and Zygmunt had stayed on good terms, then none of us would be writing about the mess in the Rams' front office.
These days it's fashionable to criticize the Shaw-Zygmunt axis. I've done some of that myself. But it's funny to go back and read what was being said about Shaw and Zygmunt and their system before the coach and execs soured on each other.
In 2002, Ira Miller of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that Rams owner Georgia Frontiere was "lucky to have John Shaw and Jay Zygmunt in the front office." The New York Daily News lauded Shaw and Zygmunt for engineering "the trade of the decade" in acquiring Marshall Faulk from Indianapolis. In 2002, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel opined that Rams management was "way ahead of the curve."
In 2001, the San Diego Union Tribune wrote the Rams have "a complete system of checks and balances, with Shaw, Zygmunt, Armey and Martz going over the players. A player never is forced on the coach." The Sacramento Bee described Rams executives as "very progressive thinkers."
And the principals lavished praise on each other.
"We have some pretty loud debates, but in the end we respect each other's opinion," Zygmunt said in early 2002. "No one is focusing on getting the credit for what goes on. We all focus on the same thing_which is building a winning team."
Around the same time, Martz said: "You've got people on the same page. It makes things a lot easier. Then, you get players that you want. We've been fortunate that Jay Zygmunt has allowed us to get the (players) we wanted. If you get everything you ask for, it's your ball."
Armey added: "My grandmother always taught us that if you want to be respected, you have to respect other people's opinions, even if you don't agree with them. I've tried to remember that. What's rewarding to me is that John, Jay and Mike respect the job we do in the personnel department for them."
Martz said, "Jay is more responsible for our success than anybody." Armey called Zygmunt "the best front-office executive in the NFL." And Zygmunt and Armey praised Martz for being so innovative.
OK, so what changed?
The relationship between Martz and Zygmunt turned cold, then nasty. And all of the sniping at Rams Park was triggered by the collapse of the Zygmunt-Martz football partnership.
Just because Zygmunt and Shaw clashed with Martz, there's no reason to conclude the next head coach will encounter the same turbulence. Shaw told me last week that one of his most important objectives in hiring a new head coach was to create a positive environment for him, to raise the morale at Rams Park. Shaw doesn't want any more conflicts, and potential coaching candidates should be encouraged by that.
I reprinted those old excerpts and quotes for a reason: In the immediate aftermath of the Martz firing, there's a tendency to dwell on all that went wrong, and to surmise that the problems at Rams Park are much worse than they really are. We needed to be reminded that when Martz and Zygmunt enjoyed working together, the Rams were one of the NFL's most consistently successful teams.
Re: Petty bickering need not be in the future at Rams Park
Bernie's a real piece of work. For two years, he's been emphasizing, encouraging and downright reveling in the whole "Rams have a dysfunctional Front Office" story.
Now that his scape-goat Martz is gone, how predictable was it that he'd print a puff piece like this to try to remain in good graces with Shaw and Zygmunt!!?!
What a tool!
Re: Petty bickering need not be in the future at Rams Park
Shaw has let the team down since the the lost in the .S.B. He never got over it ... They really thought they could not be touched by other teams ... those clips where right about the rams head office they were ahead of everyone esle and it showed in their play but Shaw let it run to far and allowed one of the best F.O.'s be torn apart in my opinion ... Shaw has always been one for public flare and when Martz was getting it all he let it go , He's been that way for years...
Re: Petty bickering need not be in the future at Rams ParkOriginally Posted by AvengerRam