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Rams owner: 'I think we're closer than most or our critics think''
Rams owner: 'I think we're closer than most or our critics think''
BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The glass always is half full with Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom. That's his personality and the way he goes through life. It's not surprising then, that Rosenbloom is optimistic about the future of the team. He hopes Rams fans share that view.
"I think fans should be optimistic about the direction of this organization," Rosenbloom told the Post-Dispatch in a rare interview. "We made a sweeping restructuring of the entire organization so that we could be winners on the field — to put us in position to start winning games.
"Now, this is not a one-season fix. This past season was sort of an interim year in my opinion before we see a more successful on-field product. I think this year it was necessary to get through a lot of stuff."
Over the past year or so, the Rams underwent an organizational shakeup from top to bottom, one that was unprecedented since the franchise moved to St. Louis in 1995. It included sweeping changes in upper management, the front office and personnel department, the coaching staff and more.
The roster itself was purged of many veterans. Financially, that meant the Rams led the league in 2009 in dead money — money that counts against the salary cap for players no longer on the team. In terms of salary-cap room, the Rams will be in much better shape entering this offseason (although it looks like 2010 will be an uncapped year).
"There are still a handful of pieces needed to make this thing really work," Rosenbloom said. "So I'm optimistic. I think if we'd sat back and done nothing, that fans would have a right to be upset. I don't think we've done nothing."
That may be true, but they sure didn't win. The 1-15 record was the worst in franchise history.
"Clearly we were disappointed," Rosenbloom said. "Clearly to lose 15 games, there's no excuse for it. I think Coach (Steve) Spagnuolo and Billy (Devaney) have said as much. We're a lot better than that."
Rosenbloom agreed to the interview reluctantly. He said in hiring Spagnuolo as head coach and promoting Devaney to general manager, part of their job description was to be the voices of the team — at least in terms of what's happening on the field.
"We made a conscious decision to hire people who had a football background to make football decisions," Rosenbloom said.
The biggest off-the-field issue surrounding the team is the pending sale of the team. League sources told the Post-Dispatch recently that the sale probably will be completed before the NFL draft, which is in April — provided Rosenbloom and sister Lucia Rodriguez decide to sell the team. And contrary to recent reports, there still are three bidders involved in the potential purchase of the team, all of whom have offers that are "acceptable" to Rosenbloom and Rodriguez.
But Rosenbloom declined to talk about the potential sale.
"There are confidentiality agreements regarding prospective bidders," Rosenbloom said. "And so I'm not going to discuss it. We're running a football team."
It's a football team that most observers feel needs more than "a handful of pieces" to become competitive. But Rosenbloom disagrees with that sentiment.
"I think we are closer than most of our critics think we are," he said. "People that really understand the game know that with a handful of pieces in place we're a highly competitive team."
This past season, Rosenbloom added, "We had six or seven games where within the last five minutes of the game it was within one score. ... I think Steve came in and did a really good job. Again, the victories don't reflect it. But this was a rebuilding year.
"Steve is an absolute winner. There's no doubt in my mind. When all the pieces are in place, he has all the tools to become a great coach. He's got what it takes, and I've been around long enough to know."
Although Rosenbloom just completed only his second year as Rams owner, he has been around football all his life. His late mother (Georgia Frontiere) owned the Rams from 1979 until her death in 2008, and his late father (Carroll Rosenbloom) owned first the Baltimore Colts, and then the Rams from 1953-79.
Rosenbloom thought the Rams' defense showed improvement in '09, although he realizes its play was inconsistent. But what about an offense that was the most feeble in the league in terms of scoring?
He said it is difficult "when you go through three quarterbacks and get your quarterbacks beaten up'' and that it's difficult "when only one wide receiver who was in training camp actually finishes the season. And with all the injuries, of course it's going to be tough to score in those situations."
Rosenbloom said he liked the working relationship and the performance of the team's power trio of Spagnuolo, Devaney and executive vice president of football operations Kevin Demoff.
"I think Billy did a very good job," Rosenbloom said. "Think about historically where we've been with these drafts. Time will tell on the more recent drafts. But Billy has done a very good job on restructuring the football side."
While unwilling to overtly criticize past players, or past team executives, Rosenbloom noted that the Rams haven't had disaster drafts under Devaney, as has been the case in the recent past.
"There is an upward trend to this team, not a downward trend, with football people in charge in an organization that's trying to build a foundation," Rosenbloom said, noting that the organizational conflict of the past is gone. "We have a harmonious organized franchise now that's moving in the same direction. That's always better for producing a winning team."
So what would Rosenbloom do with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft?
"The way I was raised, my father said you always take the best player available in almost any circumstance," Rosenbloom said. "Now I would say this: If you have Peyton Manning on your team and the equivalent of John Elway is available, you might not take him."
But in the case of the current Rams, there are next to no positions at which the team can feel like it's set. Especially at quarterback, where the Rams won't be passing on the next Elway if he were available in the 2010 draft pool. And he's not.
"Before the gates of excellence the high gods have placed sweat; long is the road thereto and rough and steep at first; but when the heights are reached, then there is ease, though grievously hard in the winning." --- Hesiod
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