Confession time. You may be one of those people that chooses to blame the media for everything bad that happens. And in many cases, that’s reasonable. Well, if you want to blame the media for the St. Louis Rams hiring Jeff Fisher…who was experienced at moving a franchise as the head coach…you can blame Martin Kilcoyne of Fox 2 and me.
The misery started in 2005, when Mike Martz got sick and was fired after the season. In 2007 the Rams started their season 0-8 enroute to a 3-13 campaign. During the 2008 season, they fired Martz’ successor, Scott Linehan, and didn’t do much better under interim Jim Haslett. From 2009-2011, Steve Spagnuolo was the head coach. His first year was a 1-15 disaster. Then he got a 7-9 and near playoff year out of rookie Sam Bradford in 2010 before another calamity in 2011.
In the off-season of 2011, the league was locked out, so there wasn’t an off-season program or free agency. When an agreement was reached, the Rams went crazy signing budget free agents. They all sucked, but they were signings. Mike Sims-Walker. Al Harris. Harvey Dahl. James Butler. Justin Bannon. Danny Muir. Brady Poppinga. Jerious Norwood. Cadillac Williams. Gary Gibson. Quinn (Moose) Ojinnaka. Adam Goldberg. Not a great haul in free agency. No players that made a positive impact.
Even with Patriots Super Bowl winner Josh McDaniels as their offensive coordinator, the Rams struggled. They started off 0-6, and those free agents didn’t contribute. Coach Spags had a tough go. They got drilled by Philadelphia in their opener. In their second home game against Baltimore, the Parkway North band was scheduled to play during pregame and halftime. Parkway North is the Vikings, and they wear purple. The Ravens wear purple. Spagnuolo found out about this connection, and had navy t-shirts made so that the high school band wouldn’t be wearing the same color as the opponent. The HEAD COACH made that decision.
Compounding that bit of micromanaging, Spagnuolo watched cornerback Justin King get torched by Baltimore’s Torry Smith for a 74-yard touchdown 2:40 into the game. Then Smith raced by King for a 41-yard score midway through the quarter. Then Smith beat King for an eighteen-yard touchdown before the first quarter was out. No real adjustments were made, and Baltimore won 37-7.
As the Rams fell to 1-7, Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals returned an overtime punt 99 yards for a touchdown. Peterson was really, really good. A questionable idea by him to return that punt, but we as fans learned how dangerous he was as a return man. Three weeks later, on November 27, the Rams played Arizona again, this time at the Edward Jones Dome.
Late in the third quarter, the Rams were within a field goal and set up to punt on 4th and 1 from their own 30-yard line. Rather than kick the ball out of bounds, Donnie Jones kicked it to Peterson at his own 20, and, SHOCKER, Peterson weaved through the Rams coverage team for an 80-yard touchdown that made it 20-13 Cardinals. Arizona won 23-20. Especially on the heels of what had happened three weeks earlier, kicking to Peterson was a dumb, dumb move. A head coach MUST say to his punter, “do NOT kick it to Peterson,” as the last thing before the punter takes the field.
After the game, I joined Martin on Fox 2. And we were both frustrated. The coaching staff had done a bad job all year. The Baltimore game. There was a Monday nighter in Seattle where they had multiple Bradford rollouts in the game plan, even though Bradford had a high ankle sprain that was well known by everyone heading into the game. Sam, and the Rams, didn’t have a chance in that one. There was a game in Washington where someone named Ryan Torain rushed for 135 yards in a 17-10 loss.
So as Martin and I took the air, we both…rightfully…blamed Spagnuolo for the loss to the Cardinals and deemed kicking to Peterson a fireable offense. It was just a terrible season, and this game was the culmination. I said, and Marty concurred, that the Rams front office should be on the phone with former Titans coach Jeff Fisher RIGHT NOW!
Well, you know what happened next. The Rams fired Spags and “beat out” Miami for the services of Fisher, who had coached the Oilers through the move from Houston to Nashville. He was a perfect fit for an owner that was set on moving a franchise. He came in and made a bunch of trades for draft choices and greased the skids for a move. In fact, when he signed former Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan in his first free agent year of 2012, Fisher acquired a guy that he trusted enough to tell about a relocation plan.
Demoff would tell me frequently, and told Martin as well, that “you guys wanted Fisher, and we got him.” Demoff thought he was doing a great job. Little did we know he was doing great at what they hired him for, but that wasn’t to win. And we weren’t the guys doing the interviews. We didn’t realize the game had passed him by with the rules changes during the lockout. We didn’t realize he wanted to have a team like the 1990 New York Giants in a league that had flipped to a quarterback driven, passing league.
By the time they left St. Louis, the Rams had won 54 games and lost 116 in the 10 ½ seasons after firing Martz. In the five and a half seasons he was at the helm, they went 56-36 including four playoff appearances in five full years. Sure, Fisher got them back to mediocre (27-36-1) in those last four years here, but it still sucked.
And I suggested it. Did they hire Fisher because of Kilcoyne and I? Definitely not. But Demoff intimated they did, so I’ll take the bullet for that final disaster perpetrated by the St. Louis Rams. For this one, if you choose, blame the media.