Monday, October 15, 2007

Magic can't save Rams season, but problems shouldn't linger

It’s been a tough Sunday here in cyberspace. Duty forced your correspondent to
watch the entire Rams game, which was an uncommonly painful experience.

Then duty required a lengthy chat session with disgruntled and disgusted fans.
About 100 replies later, I’d like to make two overriding points.

The local NFL souvenir shops don’t sell magic wands. The Rams are 0-6 and
riddled with injuries. Coach Scott Linehan hasn’t found many answers, but
hiring an ex-coach from the broadcast booth isn’t feasible in October.
Improvement during this season will have to come within the current group, one
way or another. The current coaches must coach better and the surviving players
must play better.

Turning around the Rams after this season shouldn’t be a long-term project.
Dramatic reversals of form are the norm in the Not For Long league. Green Bay
is 5-1 this season and Tampa Bay is 4-2. Conversely, the Saints went to Seattle
winless and the explosive Bengals lost four of their first five games. Things
change in a hurry in the NFL.

Believe it or not, the Rams do have some young players to build around. Clifton
Ryan and Adam Carriker were forceful in the middle of the defensive line the
last two weeks. Tye Hill, Jonathan Wade, O.J. Atogwe, Victor Adeyanju, Mark
Setterstrom, Richie Incognito, Brian Leonard -– these kids all have some value.

This is a different offense when Steven Jackson, Orlando Pace, Marc Bulger,
Isaac Bruce, Drew Bennett and Dante Hall are all healthy. We never saw that
scenario this season and we never will.

Defensive veterans Leonard Little, James Hall, Fakhir Brown and Will
Witherspoon are worthy players, although Witherspoon would be more forceful
playing outside linebacker.

Before players began to fall, I believed the Rams would start this season by
winning four of their first six games. Instead, they lost all six as their
casualties mounted.

The difference between 4-2 and 0-6 isn’t as great as you would think. Better
health, better coaching, better effort and better luck could have kept these
same players in contention.

But this season, Linehan reminds us, “is what it is.” The Rams failure is, as
Linehan says, “humbling.”

(“Embarrassing” is another word for it, but Linehan objected to that adjective
at his news conference last Monday.)

In the near term, Linehan and his assistants must coach every day as if it is
their last. They must try new strategies and different motivational tactics.

They must turn Rams Park upside down. Business as usual won’t cut it anymore.
This is an emergency. Players should feel the sense of urgency when they walk
in the door Monday -– and they should feel it every day through the end of the

If urgency brings a few volcanic eruptions along the way, then so be it.
Composure is an overrated quality on 0-6 teams. Just ask the Vikings, who
knocked off the Bears after an, um, exciting week of preparations.

In the longer term, the Rams should heed Bernie Miklasz’s advice. The current
way of running this football operation does not work. John Shaw and Jay Zygmunt
really want to win -– and that’s great -– but their operating method has failed.

This franchise must hire the most capable football man it can woo to chart its
future course. That could come in the form of a team president, general
manager, head coach -– or some combination of all those jobs. The Rams need
stronger leadership at the top.

We all know there is a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL. The
talent is evenly spread. Over the long haul, teams with better management and
better coaching prevail.

Injuries and luck are unhappy X-factors, but well-run teams have a much better
chance to plow through those variables. The Rams are NOT a well-run team.

The Rams are NOT giving themselves their best chance to win with the players
left standing.

In the near term, the current coaches and players need to try everything to
salvage some good things from this season. They owe that to themselves, their
employer and the fans. In many cases, their careers are on the line.

For the long term, Georgia Frontiere, Stan Kroenke, Shaw and Zygmunt must come
up with new and better ways of doing things. Hiring Dick Vermeil turned out to
be a masterstroke -– and now this far-flung leadership team needs another one.

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