Rams Coaching Search: Possible Names to Watch
Jim Harbaugh isn’t interested. Neither is Pete Carroll. But plenty of other candidates will line up to work in L.A., and here’s an early primer. Plus mailbag queries on Tyreek Hill, Green Bay Week and 18-game seasons
The MMQB's Peter King takes reader questions on the future on the Los Angeles Rams head coaching situation.
A note of caution as you attempt to divine what direction the Rams are going in their search for a new coach: Don’t be surprised if you’re surprised.
In 2012, the St. Louis Rams had a coach to hire after firing Steve Spagnuolo. The smart money was on Jeff Fisher, and Fisher, who ended up deciding Rams over Dolphins, was a common-sense pick. Fisher ended up coaching the Rams until Monday, when owner Stan Kroenke decided the embarrassment of a 4-9 season—capped by falling behind Atlanta 42-0 in Los Angeles on Sunday, with fans booing for much of the game—merited the firing of Fisher.
But early in the 2012 process, club COO Kevin Demoff, who ran that coaching search and will run this one, flew from St. Louis to Newark, rented a car and drove to central New Jersey to meet surreptitiously with Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. For hours Demoff debriefed Schiano, and he was careful to not fall too much in love with a coach no one had on the NFL radar. But when he left Schiano that night, Demoff was convinced he had the stuff to be hired as an NFL coach. The Rams did get their number one choice, Fisher, on Jan. 17, 2012. But had Fisher said no, it’s very possible Schiano would have been the Rams’ pick. Turns out the secret didn’t stay secret for long: Tampa Bay, where Demoff had worked for four seasons before the Rams, hired Schiano exactly one week after the Rams got Fisher.
In the first 48 hours of the coach search, the usual suspects have been proffered: Jon Gruden, Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll, David Shaw, Josh McDaniels, Kyle Shanahan. To which I say:
• On Gruden: I’m not hiring a coach who’s been out of the game for eight seasons, no matter how close he’s stayed to the game. And his track record of developing quarterbacks when he was in the NFL wasn’t good anyway.
• On Harbaugh: He denied interest in the job on Tuesday. He’s not leaving Michigan after two years, I’m told.
• On Carroll: He denied interest in the job on Tuesday. The lure of L.A. would be sorely tempting to him, certainly. But the Seahawks would have to sign off on a trade within the division for a coach who embodies the personality of their team. I think, barring a ridiculous trade (the Raiders got two first-round picks and two second-rounders from Tampa for Gruden in 1998), there’s no way Seahawks owner Paul Allen would agree to it. Reminds me of the reaction of GM Ted Thompson in 2008 when Brett Favre wanted to be released so he could play for archrival Minnesota, which was basically, Are you crazy?
• On Shaw: I asked him about a move to the pros last week for a future “The MMQB Podcast with Peter King” episode, and the Stanford coach said, basically, that one day way down the road he may be interested, but not now. He made a great point: College coaches with great jobs go to the NFL, to downtrodden teams, and then get in what he called “the spin cycle” of the pros. Two years of losing, maybe three, and they’re out … and struggling to find a good job. Schiano, for example, lasted two years in Tampa and was out of major coaching for three years, until he found the defensive coordinator job at Ohio State.
• On McDaniels and Shanahan: Interesting. Very interesting. Both men will be NFL head coaches, and soon, if they want. The Rams should talk to both. The most important thing for the Rams, I believe, is finding a coach who likes Jared Goff and can make him better.
Now, as for the Schiano Surprise Element …
Keep these names in mind for the unsung college guys who just might come out of nowhere: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who is popular in the eyes of some in the NFL for his development of Dak Prescott and is well-liked by NFL people who pass through Starkville … Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst, who had Russell Wilson for his last college season and whom Wilson loved and credits for some of his development. Quiet guy, but a good coach … Now here’s an interesting name: Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre. He’s been a career defensive coach, but he has two things going for him: He turned around downtrodden programs at San Jose State and now Colorado; and he coached under Bill Parcells in Dallas.
This is a coaching search that I bet will take some odd turns before it’s over.
Finally: There’s the question of whether the Rams will keep GM Les Snead. It’s more likely they won’t, but never say never if a coach they like is a Snead admirer. This GM job, if it opens, will be strongly sought-after, because the owner has bottomless pockets, it’s in L.A., and it’s got one of the best young players in the league in Aaron Donald, and has cap room (roughly $41 million in 2017) to build. And it’s in L.A. Did I mention that?
I wouldn’t put it past a new GM to deal Goff if he and the new coach are lukewarm on him. But that’s a long shot, obviously. The Rams have a lot to do. The good news for them? The one other job that will come open (Jacksonville) and the others that might (Buffalo, San Diego, Indianapolis) aren’t nearly as attractive, and only one, the Colts, has a long-term quarterback.
Now for your email...
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TYREEK HILL’S HISTORY
In the same column that you feature a tweet from Megan Greenwell about how smart women are disappearing from Twitter because of harassment, you also feature Tyreek Hill, lauding him as a smart draft pick who was overlooked and as a weapon for many years to come for Kansas City. As you know, Hill pled guilty to assaulting and choking his pregnant girlfriend, a fact that caused his draft stock to drop so low that he was available when Kansas City could grab him. That you would mention his draft placement without mentioning why he was available is part and parcel of why smart women are leaving Twitter and part of the harassment they deal with in their daily lives. Because it doesn’t matter if you beat and choke your pregnant girlfriend—doesn’t matter if you’re convicted of it. It’s all forgiven if you can play football. I’ve watched the NFL since the days of the Joe Pisarcik fumble in the Meadowlands. I love watching the game. But as a survivor of sexual assault, it made me sick to my stomach to listen to the announcers on Thursday night laud Hill and to read you do the same in your column today without once mentioning his conviction or, even telling me how he’s doing in his court-ordered therapy. It’s possible he can become a better person. But why should he, when everyone just shrugs now because he can return punts for touchdowns?
I am sorry for your experience, Corrina. As long as I am running your charges, I would like to address your assertions and praise the people who edit my column. I called Hill “a great prospect at a bargain price.” I acknowledged his act of domestic violence for what happened at Oklahoma State. But I am assuming you read the column early Monday morning. We have a system in place whereby the column is first edited by Dom Bonvissuto overnight—a daunting task because he’s basically editing the column in pieces, starting around 6 p.m. ET and putting it together like a jigsaw puzzle. He finishes in the wee hours and posts the column by about 5:15 a.m. When another editor, Mark Mravic, wakes up,\ he goes back to edit the column a second time to find anything he thinks needs to be fixed. And assuming you read the column before 8:45 a.m., you would not have seen the final edit of it, which included this clarified and correct version of what happened with Hill: “In 2015 Hill pleaded guilty to domestic abuse for choking his pregnant girlfriend while at Oklahoma State, for which he was sentenced to three years’ probation. He was kicked off the Oklahoma State team and transferred to West Alabama.” So you are correct that I was not sufficiently harsh on Hill in my original column, and I am grateful to Mravic for editing in exactly what happened. I appreciate you reading so closely and calling me on it. And again, sorry for what you went through.
MORE ON MIAMI PLEASE
I’m a Dolphins fan so call me a “homer,” but why have you not discussed the Dolphins and their dramatic turnaround this year? Adam Gase might be the Coach of the Year. Seriously. Some of the injuries he’s had to endure with a team already lacking in depth is mind-blowing. In one year he’s literally changed the culture of a team that has drowned in losing the last 10-plus years. Jason Garrett will probably win the award, and I guess he’s deserving, but he also has a team loaded with talent and a QB who fell into their lap. Every week I read, and every week the Dolphins are just a footnote with maybe a quote or two.
—Brett S., South Dakota
Three weeks ago (column of Nov. 21), my first of 11 stories from around the league in the Monday column was about how Ryan Tannehill and Adam Gase were such a good combination, after the Dolphins scored two touchdowns late to beat the Rams. I talked to Tannehill after the game and used quotes from him in the column. I haven’t written that much about the Dolphins this year, so you may have missed that.
SOLUTION FOR BALL INFLATION PROBLEMS
Given the NFL’s knowledge of the ideal gas law, I have three suggested tweaks for the football-handling protocol during games. First, once the referees have the footballs, have an assistant take all of them to the field where they can acclimate to the weather conditions. Thirty minutes before kickoff, have one official make sure all the footballs are properly inflated, and do not allow them to be brought inside. Second, play the first half with 12 footballs per team. At intermission, have an official check the second sets of 12 for proper inflation and use those for the entire second half. Third, punish teams that measure or otherwise tamper with the other team’s footballs. If they suspect something, have them bring the footballs to a league official to be checked. The first two protocols would eliminate worries about footballs becoming seriously underinflated during the game. And the third would stop teams like the Giants from “going rogue” and put the situation back in the hands of the NFL office, where it belongs.
—Scott O., Waltham, Mass.
Interesting thoughts, Scott. But I doubt balls “acclimate to the weather conditions” while outside; if they remained outside, they’d lose air pressure no matter when they were inflated. I do think having a league official check the footballs a team suspects are underinflated is smart, because if the balls are checked by a team—only two of them—it’s easy to say the team had a vested interest in finding that they were not inflated properly. I think the league should do that right away.
You wrote (very commendably): “I think I hope Victor Cruz is not the only NFL player to come out strong against New York fullback Nikita Whitlock having his home broken into and defaced with a swastika and KKK sign. ... To me, too few players and NFL people have spoken out about this.” But you didn’t mention that the defacing comments in Whitlock’s house included the word “Trump.” And you should have asked, “Where is the condemnation for this act from PEOTUS Trump?” Keep up the fantastic work!
Thanks Marc. Whatever was scrawled beyond the swastika and KKK signed would have made for a political discussion, and regardless of whether Trump’s name was used here, the issue is the use of the two disturbing other images.
I have been a faithful reader of the MMQB for years—it is one of the few things to look forward to on Monday mornings. In your article you question if the Rams are second-guessing their pick of Jared Goff. However, in another section today you are discussing the impact of coaching on Matthew Stafford’s game. I have to believe that poor coaching is a huge contributor to some of these first-round QB struggles. How big a factor do you think that is in the success or failure of these young quarterbacks? Could Jared Goff be contributing at a high level if he had been drafted by the Cowboys? Look at the early success of Carson Wentz and his development—even though he has struggled of late, he was eased in with simpler game plans to build his confidence. Doesn’t he look more NFL ready than Goff?
—Scott A., Lynnfield, Mass.
Thanks for the kind words, Scott. The way this game works, in my opinion, is the players who are taught better tend to have an advantage. And there’s no question Wentz, with Doug Pederson and Frank Reich being former players who made their living (very often) as studious backups, has an edge because he’s rubbing elbows with guys who’ve played at this level—and coached for a while too. QB coach John DeFilippo also is a veteran NFL coach and played the position in college. But Rams QB coach Chris Weinke has much the same experience as Pederson and Reich. The Rams’ offensive coordinator, Rob Boras, does not; he’s a former college center with no pro playing experience. The Rams have gotten attention, justifiably, for running a pretty simple offense, and it’s obvious that’s something the franchise will remedy in the next coaching hire.
THANKS FOR GREEN BAY WEEK
I wanted to congratulate you and your team for a great week of Green Bay stories. I have only been seriously following football for the past four years, but already I bleed green and gold. A trip to Green Bay was already on my bucket list, but now there will probably have to be several, sooner rather than later. Thank you, and great work.
—Justin G., Montreal
Fantastic!!! Great job, great writing, tremendous articles! I don’t know how you came up with such a variety of extremely interesting subjects, but whoever put this together has earned a raise. Don’t think it would work for every market, but for Green Bay it’s perfect. My best friend is a non-recovering Cheesehead, and I pointed him towards your series. He loved the stories. Keep up the good work.
—Pat R., Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Loved, loved, loved the Packer week profiles this past week—even more so as a lifelong Packer fan. A great retrospective of a great fan base. Now I'm curious if you guys would do so on another team. As authentic as this week's profile seemed I'd love to hear the same about other franchises. To be honest, I'd be most interested in the Steelers. They are a group of fans that probably travels better than any other (even ours) and seem to be as passionate. Any chance we see a “Humans of the Steelers” piece someday?
I have to thank our editorial staff, led by the idea man for this, Mark Mravic; we never would have done this without his idea. “The Humans of Green Bay” was Matt Gagne’s idea. And the entire edit team worked extra hard last week to bring these pieces to life. Our team on the ground—Kalyn Kahler, Emily Kaplan and Robert Klemko, along with videographer John DePetro (with his cool 360 video of the tailgate on Sunday morning)—was vital. We have no immediate plans to do another team/city, but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future.
THE 18-GAME PROPOSAL
Regarding an 18-game regular season schedule, here is what I would propose: Each team plays one preseason game, all at neutral sites (i.e., cities that don’t have NFL teams). Each team plays 18 regular-season games, nine home and nine away. Add three to five roster spots per team. No individual player may appear in more than 16 regular-season games.
Pros: More job openings for players; good for NFLPA. More meaningful, live-game experience for backup players, especially QBs (e.g., the next Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have to wait 3-4 years before getting a shot to showcase his abilities); good for everyone. Effectively creates three bye weeks for each player over an 18-game season, rather than one bye week over a 16-game season; good for NFLPA. More REAL football; good for everyone.
Bottom line: Everyone wins!
—Jason, Kansas City
I’ve been a fan of the all-non-kickers-and-punters-play-16-games-in-an-18-game-season concept. But I’ve found no one in the NFL who likes it. So Jason, unless we get some momentum, your plan is cooked. Now, the one point Packers president Mark Murphy made last week when I raised this idea with him is something I had no answer for. Imagine the Giants have a game with playoff implications against Detroit this weekend (they do), and this is the weekend they’ve decided to play Ryan Nassib instead of Eli Manning, and Matthew Stafford is on the other side of the field. Uh-oh. Not only is that a bad thing for competitive balance in this game, but it’s going to be a bad thing for the TV network (FOX) that has the game. The networks are not necessarily crying out for more inventory either.
Might the Rams have fired Fisher this week so he doesn’t wind up alone as the all time losingest coach in league history? If so a classy move.
—Randy S., Wausau, Wisc.
No. The 42-0 deficit at home Sunday after three quarters was probably the clincher. The Rams knew there was no sense dragging this out, knowing they were going to fire Fisher at the end of the season anyway.
REESE’S O-LINE MISSES
Concerning your thoughts on Jerry Reese. I agree that he is probably safe now, but should he be? He has swung and missed on O-line so many times. The Giants would be a very legitimate threat rather than a nice story if they had any semblance of a line. Weston Richburg was a great pick, and Justin Pugh is working out at guard, but Pugh was drafted as a tackle. He was subpar there, and Ereck Flowers is a disaster. I’m glad that some of their LBs have started to play well (Devon Kennard was a great late-round pick), but Reese has lots of swings and misses there as well. I just feel like his moves are never very goal-oriented, and the defense is more a testament to schemes than the shopping spree itself. Anyway, I always love MMQB and I appreciate your support to the troops.
—Jim (From Afghanistan)
Thanks Jim, and good luck over there. Stay safe. Reese in 10 years has been the captain of the shop that’s produced two Super Bowl wins and looks to have the team on the right track for a year or three now. So I’m not sure he’ll last 20 years, but I’m pretty sure he’ll last at least 11.
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