Rams Turn Focus to Future
By Nick Wagoner/Senior Writer
It was a bittersweet day for Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff as he was tasked with informing coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney that they wouldn’t be returning to their roles for the 2012 season.
But on the flip side of the immediate gloom that goes with parting ways with two people as classy as Devaney and Spagnuolo lays a future with immense possibility.
“Today we seek a new direction and hope for a fan base that hasn’t had a lot of hope over the past few years,” Demoff said. “We believe this is the best course of action to return us to the playoffs, to the championships, to the results that our fans deserve.”
And so began the latest in a line of searches for the men to lead the Rams back to the tradition and victories that they once enjoyed on a regular basis.
In starting the search for their next head coach and general manager, Demoff made it clear Monday afternoon that the process isn’t going to be operated in a vacuum. There is a clear, definitive plan in place to hire those people but there seemingly won’t be any restrictions on the makeup or qualifications of who those people are.
“We have started assembling a list,” Demoff said. “I think everybody keeps a secret file in their drawer for if this day ever comes. We are fairly open but we also want to talk to the people we have engaged as consultants and get their opinion on how we can get back to winning. If you limit yourself to a formula or criteria, you could be missing the best candidate for the St. Louis Rams.”
Soon after Demoff passed along the news from owner Stan Kroenke to Spagnuolo and Devaney, he began the immediate task of trying to put that list together and started making arrangements for interviews and the start of the vetting process.
One of the first orders of business was to form a sort of search committee to help get the opinions of some football cognoscenti capable of helping identify the right people for the jobs.
That included calls to former coach Dick Vermeil and Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, both of whom will sit on that advisory board. The group is also expected to include other former league executives.
Ultimately, though, the decision will fall to Kroenke.
“Mr. Kroenke will be heavily involved,” Demoff said. “It’s his call and we are all going to go at this as a team effort to find the right people. The goal in this has to be to find stability for this franchise and to find people you know when they walk in the door will immediately be able to change the culture.”
Demoff said the Rams had not yet made contact with any coaching candidates and certainly did not have any “leading” candidates at this early stage in the process.
Additionally, there is no set pecking order for filling one position or the other first.
“There is no formula for hiring a GM before a head coach,” Demoff said. “Obviously those things are going to be very fluid. We are going to look for the right people. I think this is about getting the right people for these jobs who are going to be compatible with one another. At some point, we are going to have to pick who is going to come first and who is going to come second.”
In the next 24 hours, Demoff said the Rams will likely begin sending out consent forms seeking permission to interview candidates from other teams. By the end of the week, possibly sooner, the hope is that a certain number of candidates will have been identified and interviews will be set up.
The turnaround figures to be quick but it doesn’t mean there’s an ideal target date to have everything done, either.
“I think you always want those things to happen as quickly as they can,” Demoff said. “But certainly you want the right process; you want to get the right people. I would put making the right hire ahead of making it quickly. We need to find new leadership to change the direction and vision of our football team…we want to find people who can take us to new heights and people who can return us to what this franchise can be. I would expect the timetable of the next few weeks. Hopefully we’ll find the right person and I have great confidence that we will.”
Names of possible candidates will pop up in the next day or so and beyond but one name Demoff addressed Monday is former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher.
Fisher is a client of longtime agent Marvin Demoff, who just so happens to be Kevin Demoff’s father.
Kevin Demoff acknowledged Monday that he’d talked to his father about the process of speaking with Fisher and made it clear that Fisher is going to be in the mix. He also cautioned that just because Fisher is in play, it doesn’t mean that anything is set in stone or close to it.
“I think that will move quickly,” Demoff said. “I think for everybody else that is going through the search, he is someone who is a potentially attractive candidate. But I think the one thing to caution is everybody assumes that because my father represents Jeff Fisher that we are a natural fit. His job is to represent Jeff Fisher; our job is to find the right head coach for the Rams. If those two intersect, that would be fantastic. If they don’t intersect, we will do the right thing for our respective clients and our respective organizations and then move forward. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that because I happen to know someone that knows Jeff well; that I know Jeff well that Jeff is going to be our head coach.”
Fisher is the only name Demoff discussed candidly on Monday but when asked if there was a certain profile that the Rams would look for in the next coach, Demoff said there isn’t necessarily a guideline like some might think.
In other words, speculation that the Rams will exclusively interview candidates with previous head coaching experience is off base.
“I think when you change coaches in any sport, everybody always expects you to do the opposite of what you did before,” Demoff said. “If you have a defensive guy, you are supposed to hire an offensive guy, if you have a players coach, you are supposed to hire a disciplinarian, if you have a college coach, you are supposed to hire a pro coach…You can look at someone who has had experience before but it’s not going to be automatic that we are going to look for the polar opposite of what we started with.”
The same can be said for the general manager opening, where there is again no pigeonholing of possible candidates.
For now, Vice President of Player Personnel Mike Williams will be in charge of all personnel decisions until a new general manager is put in place. Having someone with experience in all areas of personnel is an important factor in finding a general manager but it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who has been a general manager before.
“We want someone who is in charge of the personnel process from start to finish,” Demoff said. “We are looking for someone dynamic who can bring in the right players. I think we are looking for strong leader in personnel who has got a diverse background who can bring together diverse opinions and give us the best players. We sit here with the second pick in the NFL Draft coming up, we have a lot of salary cap flexibility moving forward and someone is going to have a great opportunity to make good choices for the St. Louis Rams but we want to get someone who is experienced and knows what they want and where we are going and will work really well with the head coach.”
As for the assistant coaches, the Rams have just one who is under contract beyond February, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The rest of the staff will stay with the club through the end of the month and whoever is hired as the new coach will be encouraged to interview the assistants already in place.
McDaniels’ situation is a bit different since he’s under contract for next year and there could be some hesitancy to force quarterback Sam Bradford to work with his third coordinator in as many NFL seasons.
For his part, Bradford would like to see McDaniels get another year and a full offseason to implement his scheme.
“Obviously, I hope that Josh stays and the system stays,” Bradford said. “But if we do get a new offensive coordinator then I’ll embrace it like I have these last two years and get to work and try to learn it as quick as possible. Obviously it’s frustrating. Ideally, I would like to be going into year three of the same system. That’s not possible so we’ll see what happens. If there is a new offense to be learned then I will be ready to roll.”
McDaniels figures to be a wanted man in a number of places for offensive coordinator openings and potentially even some head coaching jobs. Because he’s under contract, the Rams could theoretically limit his opportunities but Demoff said he spoke to McDaniels Monday afternoon and they came to an understanding of how the next month should play out.
“He’s going to take some time to consider what’s best for him,” Demoff said. “We are going to take some time to consider what’s best for us. I’m sure Josh will have opportunities throughout the NFL to possibly be a coordinator or better throughout this process so that’s going to be fluid but I think we’ll figure out what’s best for both parties.”