Just look at that grit. :<> Clic to enlarge.
Rams' Cromwell is back where he started
BY JIM THOMAS | Posted: Monday, September 6, 2010 12:20 am |
Seated in the back lobby at Rams Park at the start of training camp, wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell had framed poster-sized photos of Eric Dickerson and Tom Mack looking down on him as he talked with reporters.
Where was HIS picture, he was asked.
"I'm a has-been now," Cromwell said, laughing. "I'm not in that league."
Not quite, but pretty close. Dickerson and Mack, former Rams, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Cromwell wasn't far off. A second-round pick in 1977, Cromwell spent his entire 11-year career with the Los Angeles Rams and may have been the NFL's premier safety for many of those seasons.
"I don't know how you'd compare one great athlete to another in pro football, so maybe we can agree on this: I don't know a better one than Nolan," former Atlanta Falcons coach Leeman Bennett said in 1981.
Cromwell was the NFC's defensive player of the year in 1980, made four Pro Bowls and was on the Rams' Super Bowl XIV team. He still holds the Rams' franchise record for career interception return yards (671) and is second in career interceptions (37).
Of course, that was awhile back. Mardy Gilyard, the Rams' rookie wide receiver, was a 1-year-old when Cromwell played his last game for the Rams during the '87 strike season. Not many of the wideouts he now coaches had heard of Cromwell as a player.
"Some of them have 'Googled' me or whatever, and see that I played for the Rams," Cromwell said.
After nearly a quarter-century away from the Rams, Cromwell is back with the franchise. He was hired during the offseason to replace Charlie Baggett, who left for the University of Tennessee.
"It's a little bit of nostalgia coming back to the Rams, coming back where it all started for me," Cromwell said.
Of course, he's coming back to the St. Louis Rams, not the Anaheim-based LA Rams of Southern California. Cromwell, now 55, was coaching special teams for Mike Holmgren in Green Bay in 1995 when the Rams moved to St. Louis.
"You hated to see it, because LA's a great market," Cromwell said. "But I'm sure the deal they got to move here was a great deal. And financially, I think the money dictates in the National Football League. But it's been a great move for the Rams and St. Louis. It's been a good marriage."
For Cromwell, he's a lot closer to home in his second tour of duty with the club. In the early 1970s, he was an 8-man football legend in Ransom, Kan. He did it all for his high school team, including punting. Even when his right ankle was injured — his punting foot — Cromwell simply kicked left-footed for his team.
"That's because we didn't have anybody else that could punt at all," Cromwell said, modestly. "There were only 19 or 20 kids out for the team. We didn't have to punt too many times."
Cromwell went on to the University of Kansas, where after two years as a starting safety, he switched to wishbone quarterback. He threw just 92 passes in two seasons as the Jayhawks' starting quarterback but was a formidable running threat. He rushed for 1,124 yards in 1975 and was named Big Eight offensive player of the year.
Oh, by the way, Cromwell was 3-1 against the Tigers in the Kansas-Missouri border rivalry. "It's a great rivalry," he said, diplomatically.
Except for a brief stint selling tires in Orange County — he owned and managed two tire stores — Cromwell has been in coaching since his playing days ended. All but two of those seasons were spent in the NFL.
He coached special teams in Green Bay for Holmgren from 1992 to 1997, then switched to wide receivers in '98. He followed Holmgren to Seattle in '99 and spent nine seasons there as wide receivers coach, before leaving for Texas A&M, where he was offensive coordinator in '08 and '09.
"But for me, the NFL is where I really wanted to coach, and having the opportunity to come here, back where it all started (with the Rams), that was something special," Cromwell said.
Cromwell didn't know head coach Steve Spagnuolo when hired in St. Louis, but he had worked on staffs in Green Bay and Seattle with Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole. He also knew offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur through Shurmur's late uncle Fritz, who coached Cromwell in LA and later coached with him in Green Bay.
In St. Louis, Cromwell's challenge is nothing more than finding the next Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt to catch passes from Sam Bradford.
"I would love to be able to do that," Cromwell said. "I have a ton of respect for Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. They were two great, great players."
Cromwell has a group of young, inexperienced and largely unproven wideouts to work with. He's looking for passion, commitment and attention to detail.
"It's a situation that, even though it's a young group, they've got to stay focused on the job at hand and what it's going to take when the regular season gets here," Cromwell said. "Preseason, you're going to have some challenges and battles and stuff like that, but when it comes to regular season, it's a different season. Things pick up. The energy level. The competitiveness, it's all going to be higher. And they've got to understand that."
Cromwell knows. He's been there, even if it was a lifetime ago for players he's now coaching.