"Nothing is ever so bad it can't be made worse by firing the coach.”
— Jim Murray
For today's MWM, we flash back to 1983 when the Los Angeles Rams, who fired head coach Jeff Fisher on Monday, were having similar problems with staffing. However, in 1983, it wasn't a rookie QB, an inept coach or a weak offensive line that was the problem. It was a new owner.
If you like this vintage Jim Murray column on the Los Angeles Rams, we are happy to announce that the new Jim Murray collection — The LA Rams: Home Again (A History of LA's Team from the Voice of the City)— will be available just in time for Christmas.
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THURSDAY, JANUARY 6, 1983, SPORTS
Copyright 1983/THE TIMES MIRROR COMPANY
Rams Can't Get What They Need in Draft
Once upon a time, there was a happy little kingdom known as the Los Angeles Rams, and they were more fun than a bag of kittens.
Everybody loved them. They were kind of dotty, but the community doted on them the way a parent might on the least advantaged of the children. It was very patient with them.
They were nomads, this bunch. They came to California from Cleveland with their mattresses on the
roofs of their jalopies, so to speak, as so many émigrés had before them, but the community took them in, bound up their wounds, patted them on the head, murmured soothing nothings in their ears and made them comfortable, healthy and even affluent.
They were a cheery bunch. They played games for a living, and the community suffered for them when they lost and exulted with them when they won. They helped make pro football into a national mania, and they were very clever about it. They were always just good enough to keep you interested, but not to get you bored. They were perfect for Los Angeles. War might loom, floods might threaten, smog might peril, but the biggest
problem the Rams faced week in and week out was who was going to play quarterback. It wasn't a game, it was an escape.
If the team had a weakness, it was at the one position they couldn't draft for — ownership. You could plug the hole at quarterback, but the front office gets a no-cut lifetime contract.
Dan Reeves, the original owner, was a good football man but was given to dark moods. He was the first to establish an extensive scouting network and to prove you could get better football players out of Grambling than Ohio State. But he feuded with his partners, his coaches, the league, the media. The decision process got so paralyzed they had to bring in a San Francisco press agent to mediate the differences in the executive suite. Pete Rozelle parlayed those experiences into the commissionership of pro football.
Dan Reeves twice fired the best football coach money could buy. George Allen, a furtive operator who ran his franchise like the CIA, used to irritate Reeves, probably because he won without much help from the owner. When Allen left, all he did was take his next team to the Super Bowl. The Rams won in the you-know-what bowl. Reeves hired a college coach who still believed in the quick kick and the Statue of Liberty as valid offensive plays.
When Reeves died, the Rams seemed finally to achieve a blend of excellence on the field and at the top. Carroll Rosenbloom was an interesting case, a tough guy who liked to imagine himself as a hand-kissing, heel-clicking social fop. He wasn't. Underneath those ruffled cuffs were brass knuckles. You didn't want to meet Carroll Rosenbloom on the two-yard line of a business deal, either, but his chief contribution to Rams lore turned out to be moving the franchise out of Los Angels. He did it for money he would never use.
Any way you look at it, it was a blunder, an act of spitefulness that was to cost the league, the community of Los Angeles, and, ultimately, the community of Oakland, dearly.
When Rosenbloom died, the Rams finally thought they had a marriage made in heaven — or at least in MGM. A golden-haired princess inherited the Rams in the best traditions of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty. Disneyland was bidding for the rights. It was perfect casting. A Technicolor blockbuster that could play in Peoria. Or the Music Hall. Goldilocks and the Chicago Bears. Gidget Goes to the Super Bowl.
Alas! It was more like, Say good night, Gracie. Instead of Doris Day, with ink on her nose, diagramming winning plays, it was like casting Joan Rivers in Camille. Georgia Rosenbloom Frontiere thought a season could be scripted like the second act of Naughty Marietta. You could run the team from the hairdresser's. Quality football players were released with a shrug and draft choices were dumped off balconies for overage quarterbacks. The coach looked like a plate of spaghetti on the sidelines. The team actually played like a Victor Herbert operetta.
The Rams can't be rebuilt by a coaching change. What the team really has to have is an owner change. It doesn't need a quarterback and it doesn't have to draft for a defensive end. It should lobby for the league to put owners in the draft, not just players. The Rams, off their record, should get the No. 1 pick. They should select Art Rooney. Or Clint Murchison. Or Paul Brown. Or, if they really want to turn the franchise around, how about Al Davis? Either that, or put Zsa Zsa Gabor in charge of the Dallas Cowboys.
Reprinted with permission by the Los Angeles Times.
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