NFL Coaching Changes: 3 Big-Name Coaches the St. Louis Rams May Target
In all probability, the St. Louis Rams will be making significant changes in the offseason.
When considering the Rams are in the midst of the worst five-year winning percentage in NFL history, that would seem to be the prudent course of action.
Those changes will almost certainly start at the top, with openings likely ahead at both general manager and head coach.
At head coach, Steve Spagnuolo has stumbled to a 10-36 record with two games remaining in his third and, most likely, final season under the Arch.
In 2009, his first in St. Louis, the Rams finished at 1-15.
Last year, St. Louis showed promise and progressed, finishing at 7-9 and a game out of the NFC playoffs.
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford led the offense as young defensive standouts James Laurinaitis and Chris Long assisted a talented group of young defenders in playing solid team defense.
Heading into 2011, many prognosticators pegged the Rams as the favorite in the NFC West.
Fast forward to Week 16.
The Rams are staring at last place in the NFC West, a top-three pick in the 2012 NFL draft (for the third time in four years) and the strong possibility of a two-win season.
St. Louis finishes with games at Pittsburgh (who are still fighting for a higher playoff seed) followed by a New Year's Day matchup at the Edward Jones Dome against NFC West champion San Francisco (who could be playing for home field advantage in that game).
January 2, one day after the regular season's completion, comes what is known as "Bloody Monday" in league circles.
It's on this day that NFL head coaches who are rightfully or wrongfully deemed as under-performing often hit the unemployment line.
Coaches are sent to the showers, demoted, axed or relieved of their duties.
Regardless of how one wants to phrase it, it's the day when head coaches get fired.
In St. Louis, expect Steve Spagnuolo to be handed a one-way ticket out of Rams Park on January 2.
In all probability, Spagnuolo will land on his feet as a defensive coordinator next season, and rightfully so.
Before taking over in St. Louis, he was a highly-regarded defensive coordinator with the New York Giants. Spagnuolo burst onto the national scene after his defense wreaked havoc on Tom Brady and the heavily favored New England Patriots in an upset victory in Super Bowl XLII.
St. Louis' last two head coaches, Scott Linehan and the aforementioned Spagnuolo, were hired without previous head coaching experience.
And both, coincidentally or otherwise, failed miserably at the helm for the Rams.
Linehan, Spagnuolo's predecessor, "led" St. Louis to an 11-25 record before getting canned after four games in his third season in 2008.
So far, Spagnuolo is somehow doing worse than Scott Linehan.
Spagnuolo's record now stands at 10-36. It is likely that he ends his third season at the helm at a dismal 10-38.
Regardless of the unfortunate injury situations that have plagued the franchise and several other obstacles that Spagnuolo has been dealt with, the likable Spagnuolo is 10-36, an unacceptable record in the NFL.
After struggling so mightily with two former coordinators who lacked head coaching experience, look for St. Louis to pursue a proven head coach if a change is made.
St. Louis needs to solidify the franchise and the safest route to doing so is by landing a man with a long and successful resume as an NFL head coach.
The three biggest names with that pedigree are Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher.
Some might say that one or more of these individuals are unrealistic options. However, that is not necessarily the case for at least three reasons.
First of all, money talks. For the right price, the right coach can be attained.
Keep in mind, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke is extremely wealthy, even by NFL standards.
Kroenke checked in as the third wealthiest NFL owner in 2011, according to Forbes. If one were to also include his wife's fortune, Kroenke would have easily checked in at No. 2 on the list behind only Paul Allen of the Seattle Seahawks, the co-founder of Microsoft.
Either way, he's got the goods to pay top dollar for the coach of his choice.
Secondly, the Rams possess a quarterback in Sam Bradford who many believe has the potential to become that treasured jewel NFL teams slobber over—a franchise quarterback a la Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Finally, giving power over personnel is often appealing to coaches of this stature and could be the carrot that owner Stan Kroenke dangles in front these potential coaching candidates.
Interestingly, the Rams have previous connections with at least two of the three choices—Gruden and Fisher—as we will discuss in the upcoming slides, making the next few weeks all the more interesting if a head coaching search indeed begins.
With that said, let's briefly take a look at each of the aforementioned individuals.
In 16 seasons in Tennessee, Jeff Fisher led the Titans to a 142-120 mark and six playoff appearances and three AFC South division titles. In 1999, he led Tennessee to the Super Bowl before eventually falling to the St. Louis Rams.
In five of those sixteen seasons, Fisher's teams won 11 games or more. In three of those campaigns, the Titans won 13 games.
In 11 postseason games, Fisher's teams won five and lost six.
He began his NFL coaching career in 1986 with the Eagles. He eventually landed defensive coordinator roles with the Eagles, Rams and Oilers.
Fisher has stated that he will "listen to anyone" regarding potential head coach opportunities.
Earlier in the season, it was speculated here that St. Louis may have contacted Fisher about their head coaching position, however, those rumors went unconfirmed.
Speculation has also swirled in St. Louis because Jeff Fisher's long-time agent is Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff's father, Marvin Demoff.
Although that is an interesting tidbit, in reality that alone does not make him any more likely to land with the Rams than anywhere else.
The opportunity to coach talented young defensive players like James Laurinaitis, Chris Long and Robert Quinn could appeal to Fisher.
Jon Gruden signed a five-year extension with ESPN's Monday Night Football this year, but that hardly rules him out as a head coaching candidate in St. Louis, or anywhere else for that matter.
Those contracts tend to have exit options built in for former coaches like Jon Gruden, and undoubtedly that is the case in this situation.
Gruden began his head coaching career with Oakland in 1998.
In Oakland, Gruden was 38-26. In four seasons, his team never finished worse than 8-8.
He took the Raiders to the playoffs twice, landing in an AFC Championship game following the 2001 season. They eventually fell to New England in the snowy and infamous "tuck-rule" game.
If victorious, Oakland would have met St. Louis in the Super Bowl that year.
In 2002, Gruden took over for the Indianapolis-bound Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay.
In seven seasons there, he went 57-55 and led the Buccaneers to the playoffs on three occasions, including a Super Bowl victory in 2002.
For his career, Gruden is 95-81 with five division titles, two coming in the AFC West and three in the NFC South, respectively.
In contrast to Jeff Fisher, Gruden's coaching background is on offense.
Before landing in Oakland as head coach, Gruden had spent seven seasons as an offensive assistant in the NFL, including three as offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles (1995-1997).
Gruden is not unfamiliar with coaching in the Show-Me State.
In 1988, the then-25-year-old Gruden worked at Southeast Missouri State University as their team's passing game coordinator.
Recently, Gruden turned heads amongst Rams fans during his broadcast of St. Louis' Monday Night Football game at Seattle.
During the telecast, he alluded to what he might do if he were himself working in St. Louis.
To add a little fuel to the fire, Gruden has always loved working with young, talented quarterbacks.
In the past, especially last season and early this year, he has spoken very highly of Sam Bradford.
St. Louis could be a place of interest for Gruden and is a possible target for Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
It is noteworthy that Gruden and St. Louis COO Kevin Demoff worked together during their common tenures in Tampa Bay, so they obviously have a decent feel for one another.
In fact, while working for the Bucs as a senior assistant, Gruden offered up this praise for Demoff, from pewterreport.com:
Kevin is a genius and his dad has really done a lot in the world of sports, said Gruden. Kevin understands the salary cap and the creativity in doing a contract. Any business decision we’re involved in he has the ability to brainstorm on these issues and have an opinion. Whether or not we always agree with him [or not], I don’t know. I don’t sit up there with the Blackberry and look cross-eyed into the computers.
Some of the statistical information he gathers, some of the forecasting, trends and all of these things he does are valuable. You can predict the outcome of certain teams based on their current or past salary cap situations. You can predict that these four players are going to have to go in 2008. You can predict these things if you spend the time to do it. It’s no mistake that some people predicted some of the things happening here that happened here from a salary cap standpoint. He’s one of them. But Kevin can also help us prevent from having that happen again. He’s a weather forecaster in a lot of ways.
It the Rams were to pursue Gruden, it is likely that he would demand a good chunk of control over player personnel and draft decisions, if not a general manager role.
But it is unclear if that would be an option that St. Louis would present to Gruden should they choose to pursue the former Raiders and Buccaneers head coach in the event of a head coaching vacancy.
Bill Cowher resigned as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach in 2007 to spend more time with his family, among other things.
Before leaving Pittsburgh Cowher led the historic NFL franchise to a 149-90 record in 15 seasons. The run included two AFC championships and a Super Bowl victory.
He led the Steelers to the playoffs on 10 separate occasions, going 12-9. Nine of those playoff appearances came via an AFC East championship.
Cowher, however, is said to be content as an NFL analyst for CBS Sports. As is often the case with former NFL head coaches however, that is subject to change.
For the Rams to have a legitimate shot at landing Cowher (if both parties are interested in the event of a coaching change), it appears very likely that St. Louis would have to offer Cowher the dual head coach/general manager role with control over all personnel decisions.
In addition, Cowher would demand top dollar if he were to become a candidate in St. Louis.
Like Fisher, he is a coach with a defensive background and pedigree. Before taking over as head coach in Pittsburgh in 1992, Cowher was the defensive coordinator for Kansas City from 1989-1991.
Shane Gray is a passionate St. Louis Rams fan and covers the Rams year round. To check out the rest of his work, go here.