The Rams put everyone involved out of their misery by firing Jeff Fisher earlier this week. A blowout loss to Atlanta at home sealed his fate. Believe it or not, Fisher was a really good coach in this league at one time. However, a 31-45-1 record in almost 5 full seasons in St. Louis/Los Angeles speaks for itself. That time is no longer now. His dismissal creates one of the most unique head-coaching openings in NFL history.
The Rams return to the crowded LA sports market has gotten off to a disastrous start. This is a city that has lost its fair share of NFL franchises in the past, but has never lacked big-time sports. Right now LA has the exciting and fun Clippers, the young and rebuilding Lakers, a resurgent USC football program and the star filled Dodgers and Angels. At best, the Rams are the sixth most relevant sports story in their own city, and the second most relevant in their own stadium. USC is infinitely more competitive in college football than the Rams are in the NFL at the moment. Forget the NFL as a whole, the Rams are irrelevant in their own city. That is a battle no other franchise has to fight.
There are a few other issues working against the Rams right now. All of which are their own doing. Rams ownership seems more concerned about building a new stadium and finding a second team to join them in LA than they do about the current state of the franchise. Also, the Rams sit at 4-9 with the worst offense in the league, averaging just 12 points a game. Rookie quarterback Jared Goff is quickly headed down the path of David Carr (not Derek) if they do not surround him with better talent quickly. Their drafts on offense have turned out to be comically bad in recent years. Following Sunday’s loss running back Todd Gurley said the Rams “look like a middle school offense.” Honestly, that is insulting to middle school offenses everywhere. Gurley is the one offensive draft pick the Rams have gotten right in recent years, even he has faded into obscurity in 2016. On Sunday, Atlanta’s defense scored as many points as the Los Angeles offense. That is not even taking into account the Rams botching the opening kickoff and setting up Atlanta at the LA 3 yard line. It was the kind of performance that leaves an organization no choice but to make changes immediately, even though Fisher had inexplicably just been given a contract extension. After the season, the rest of the current staff is probably gone as well.
Despite the many challenges facing whoever takes over the head-coaching gig in Los Angeles on a full-time basis, it is not all bad. It is LA after all. The fact that the Rams have somehow accumulated four wins speaks to how good the defense is and can be. Even so, the Rams cannot give this job to whoever the hot coordinator candidate winds up being. That is doomed to fail. There is too much going on with this franchise for it to be anyone’s first NFL head coaching job. One name already being floated around is Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. While McDaniels seems to have grown up a lot since failing miserably as a head coach in Denver, the Rams need someone with both star power and substance. McDaniels does not check either box.
This narrows the list considerably. Names like Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll would certainly fit the bill, but both have said they are not interested. Additionally, I will eat my own left arm if either one of them leaves their current gig for such a massive undertaking like rebuilding the Rams in Los Angeles. There are two names that have been rumored that would be slam dunk hires. In fact, they may be the only realistic candidates that could be successful in such a chaotic environment. They are Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden.
It is not known if either one of them are on the Rams list. Everything that is out there right now is speculation. I know there are going to be some eye rolls at Shanahan’s name, but there should not be. Yes, his time with the Redskins was largely a failure , but dig deeper. He has been the only coach to get a good year out of Robert Griffin III. Griffin was rookie of the year and led the Redskins to the playoffs in 2012. No other coaching staff has figured out how to even keep him on the field, much less get any sort of production out of him. Shanahan also has two Super Bowl rings as the head coach Denver in the late-1990s. Often times, he gets no credit for that because those Denver teams were loaded. While true, realize that John Elway did not win a Super Bowl until Shanahan came along, then he won two.
Somehow, Shanahan has gotten the “washed up old hack” label by fans and media. Unlike Fisher, he does not deserve it. He did the best he could under the dysfunctional conditions of the Redskins at that time. Shanahan would likely bring his son Kyle on as his offensive coordinator. He is the coordinator behind the 2016 resurrection of Matt Ryan. Both Shanahans have proven they know how to build an offense and make it productive. This is exactly what the Rams need. Hiring the elder Shanahan would bring instant relevance and credibility to Los Angeles and may set the Rams up coaching wise in both the short and long-term.
If there ever was a situation for Jon Gruden to return to coaching, the Rams are it. Those close to Gruden have always said that he has not gone back to coaching because he likes the celebrity that comes with his role on Monday night football. In LA, he can coach and be a celebrity. The two franchises Gruden left (Tampa Bay and Oakland) are really just now starting to recover. His legendary reputation as a disciplinarian that loves to work with young quarterbacks would be perfect for the Rams. Come on, just look at the guy.
Both Shanahan and Gruden would require a lot of money, but they have jewelry on their fingers for a reason. Judging by artist renderings of the Rams future home in Inglewood, California, they must have some deep pockets. It would be great for the NFL to have a good franchise in LA again, but it is going to take a very special coach to turn the Rams into winners in a timely manner.