As Burwell said, when you rely on people to fix the problem who ARE the problem.....
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Jay Zygmunt isn't a regular listener when it comes to sports talk radio. In truth, he's only an occasional reader of the Post-Dispatch sports pages. But the Rams' president of football operations-general manager isn't living with his head in the sand.
"I'm in the community every day, and whether it's the comments at the coffee shop, or the cleaners, or at the grocery store …," Zygmunt said, failing to finish the thought.
In other words, he has an idea that he's not the most popular sports figure in St. Louis these days.
"But that goes with the territory," Zygmunt said. "Our fans make a tremendous emotional investment in the team. Obviously, when you have a season like this, it is very difficult on everyone. There is ultimate responsibility, and clearly that responsibility rests with management."
A 3-13 finish, complete with sputtering offense, inconsistent defense and tons of injuries, wasn't what Zygmunt was looking for in 2007, either.
"We had very high expectations," Zygmunt said. "It's been a bitterly disappointing season. It's been a very painful experience for all of us here. As we look back on the 2007 season, I don't think anybody can feel good about the job they did. We have made some minor improvements from a statistical standpoint, but that's not really what counts. Obviously, the only thing that counts is the won-lost record."
Zygmunt rarely gives lengthy interviews. Although he can be glib and engaging, he likes working in the background. And especially during the season, he doesn't like to pre-empt the head coach. Although he declined to go into specifics Thursday on what lies ahead for the organization, he says he is as determined as ever to get things right.
"Right now, we have to try to stay as unemotional as we can as we go back and review this season to ascertain what went wrong, and what we can do to correct the things that went right," he said. "The 2008 season began Sunday night in Arizona.
"I think that what we need at this point is to focus on the fact that the NFL is a quick-fix league. That's something that we can be optimistic about. It can also be somewhat of a motivating factor. But nonetheless, it mandates that we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, and have to make some very tough decisions."
Zygmunt knows firsthand that it can be done, because the Rams engineered one of the ultimate worst-to-first comebacks between the end of a 4-12 season in 1998 and the beginning of a Super Bowl championship season in 1999.
That offseason included a trade for running back Marshall Faulk, free-agent pickups in quarterback Trent Green and offensive guard Adam Timmerman, and the drafting of wide receiver Torry Holt with the No. 6 overall pick. Coaching-wise, Mike Martz was brought in as offensive coordinator, and head coach Dick Vermeil was persuaded to shorten his exhaustive practices.
"You have to have confidence in your ability to do things," Zygmunt said. "I think this franchise has shown that it has been able to do it. But the real key factor is not what we've done, but what we have to do. We need to stay focused on that.
"Our goal is to win the division in 2008; that's always our goal every year. If you win the division, you're in the playoffs and you have a home game. While we're reviewing everything in our entire operation, we have to find a way to compete in our division, which we have not done a very good job of the last two years."
The Rams are 3-9 against the NFC West in Scott Linehan's two seasons as head coach. They are 0-4 against Seattle in that span, and were swept by Arizona this season for the first time since realignment put the Cardinals in the West with the Rams in 2002.
"We have to find ways to build a team that can dominate within our division, and that's where it really starts," Zygmunt said. "Like I mentioned … we just need to do a better job. It starts with me. I have to manage better. The coaches have to coach better, and the players have to play better."
Zygmunt, 55, was given the added title of general manager prior to this season, but his job duties haven't changed. In fact, Zygmunt said the entire decision-making process, in terms of player personnel, hasn't changed in 20 years or so.
"It's a collaborative effort," he said. "We have always tried to build a consensus. There's a personnel component. There's a coaching component. And there's also an evaluation component with the salary cap and free agency.
"All of us are involved in monitoring everything that goes on with the integrity of the process. And we have been following the same routine for as long as I can remember going back to the days of Ray Malavasi and the rest of the coaches. … There's a tremendous amount of input. Everyone has input. Our scouts. Our assistant coaches. Head coach. Our personnel director. Ownership is also aware of what we're doing for the major acquisitions."
Of course, some would say that after a 3-13 season, and only one winning campaign since 2001, that perhaps the process needs to change.
"We obviously need to make better decisions," Zygmunt said.
But he chafes at the suggestion that the team needs to bring in "a football guy" to make the football decisions.
"I don't know how to answer that," Zygmunt said. "I've been doing this for 26 years. Does that make me a baseball guy?"