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Some observations for Rams to reconstruct their front office
By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Tuesday, Jan. 03 2006
We’re still scratching our head after listening to Rams president John Shaw
answer – or sort of answer – questions about the future structure of the
franchise’s management team.
His news conference triggered much discussion among media types about optimal
front office structures. There are many models in the NFL and they can all work
if the right people are in the right roles.
But what is the best-case structure? Tracking the NFL for more than 25 years,
here is our humble suggestion on how to restructure the Rams operation:
OWNER: From this viewpoint, owners should own. They should act like majority
shareholders. They could not serve as the team CEO unless they work 24/7 at
And they should DEFINITELY not serve as the team’s general manager unless they
have spent decades working the personnel game on a daily basis. Jerry Jones and
Daniel Snyder do their teams no favor by thrusting themselves into football
Georgia Frontiere and Stan Kroenke have been excellent owners in St. Louis,
spending the money needed to maintain a contender. They have left the business
and football decisions to the experts.
PRESIDENT: This executive should manage every aspect of the business operation
and oversee the football operation as well. But they must delegate the
nut-and-bolt decisions to the various specialists serving them.
On balance, Shaw has done a good job in this role since the team moved here –
despite working out of Los Angeles for much of the year. But he will be sorely
tested as he attempts to clean up the current mess. The football operation
VICE PRESIDENT/GENERAL MANAGER: He should be the football czar. The head coach
and his assistants serve at his leisure. He oversees pro and college scouting,
too, and makes all the basic football decisions. On major decisions, he makes
the final recommendation to the president and owner.
The Rams don’t have somebody in this role currently. Charley Armey has been
general manager in name only.
VICE PRESIDENT/FOOTBALL ADMINISTRATION: He is the chief negotiator and salary
cap czar. He serves the owner, president and GM as the financial strategist.
The GM ultimately sets player values and the cap czar is charged with getting
players under contract at that value.
Jay Zygmunt manages the salary cap as well as any NFL executive. He knows
football, but he doesn’t work it 24/7 – so he should stick to managing the
HEAD COACH: He needs a strong say in personnel matters, of course, but he can’t
have the final say on acquisitions. A franchise needs a strong GM heading a
strong personnel department that maintains a broad view on college and pro
talent. The coach cannot get involved in contract talks, either, since it could
impact his ability to coach players once they get in the fold.
Mike Martz had full control of the football operation, which, as it turned out,
was too much responsibility. He fell in love with some college players who
turned out to be useless at the pro level.
Since the Rams seem unlikely to hire a new coach with much head-coaching
experience, there will be no reason to give him as much latitude as Mad Mike
PRO PERSONNEL DIRECTOR: With the help of his scouting staff, he provides
opponent scouting reports and updates pro personnel files on a weekly basis. He
makes recommendations on veteran free agents signed in the off-season – and
during the season, as fill-ins. He serves both the coach and GM.
Strangely, the Rams had nobody filling this role last season.
COLLEGE SCOUTING DIRECTOR: He, too, serves both the coach and GM. He directs
the college scouts and prepares for the annual draft. He recommends undrafted
free agents to sign and also tracks rookies in their initial training camp for
Lawrence McCutcheon serves in this capacity for the Rams. The team has had
mixed results in the draft, perhaps because of excessive influence of the head
OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE COORDINATORS: They prepare game plans and call the
plays. They work with the pro personnel director and college scouting director
to fill team needs. They help evaluate potential veteran free-agent signings
and potential draft picks.
Larry Marmie was an awful defensive coordinator for the Rams. And Steve
Fairchild didn’t get to call plays until Martz fell ill.
A great team needs strong individuals in each of these positions. The Rams must
do better there.
As for the total picture, there is nothing radical about these suggestions. But
there is plenty of proof that this approach works best, even if it curbs the
ambition of some individuals involved.
The boundaries are clear in this model – and clear boundaries would serve the
Rams very well in 2006.