ANALYSIS : Rams’ Slide Disrupts Plan to Groom Fisher as Coach
The Rams’ front office would prefer to stick with John Robinson for one more season and pave the way for defensive coordinator Jeff Fisher to take over in 1993, but the team’s continuing slide is making it hard to resist firing Robinson and pursuing either Bill Parcells or Buddy Ryan.
On one side, team sources say, owner Georgia Frontiere has to be convinced that firing Robinson this winter and paying big money to a big-name coach is the only way out of the team’s drop into oblivion. The guaranteed $550,000 Robinson will be owed after 1991 is not irrelevant.
Plus, the Ram hierarchy remains high on Fisher. He was brought in partly because Executive Vice President John Shaw saw Fisher, 33, as the best long-range head-coaching prospect in the league and wanted to groom him as Robinson’s successor.
But the Rams do not believe Fisher is ready to take over in 1992. So, as the team’s slide continues--the losing streak has reached seven--support for the bold move is growing.
Parcells and Ryan have the fiery, defense-oriented personalities the Rams are looking for, as well as proven track records. Parcells won two Super Bowls, including last year’s, and Ryan led the Eagles to a 31-17 record and three consecutive playoff berths from 1988-90.
Parcells, sources close to him say, is fascinated by the prospect of coaching the Green Bay Packers, who recently hired his friend, Ron Wolf, as personnel director.
But another friend of Parcells’ recently contacted the Rams and asked them to keep him on their list, provided they can afford the yearly $1.5-million salary the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are apparently offering to the current NBC commentator. Green Bay apparently is willing to match that offer.
Salary concerns aside, Parcells is said to be intrigued by the Rams because it would be a chance to revitalize a glamorous, major-market team, and because he likes the idea of living in Southern California.
In the Rams’ view, the big minus is that Parcells would demand total control over personnel matters, which he never had in New York, and at least partial control over financial matters, which no coach in the league is believed to have.
Parcells, 50, fought in New York with General Manager George Young over draft picks, even as Young brought in the talent that won him the Super Bowls.
Ryan, meanwhile, is probably available for less than $1 million a season and is acknowledged as a savvy drafter. He also has told those close to him he would retain offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese, a favorite of Shaw’s, and the entire defensive staff, most of whom are former members of Ryan’s Eagle staff. In addition, Ryan probably would not ask for payroll overview.
Ryan, 57, also could serve as a two- or three-year bridge--and after that possibly move into a role as personnel boss, leaving the coaching to his Eagle protege, Fisher.
“The Rams would be an exciting challenge,” Ryan said Monday from his Kentucky home, adding that he has gotten no inkling that the Rams are interested in him. “They’ve got the makings of a pretty good staff out there, I think.
“I think I could turn them around just by concentrating on the draft a little harder and trying to find some good Plan B players.”
Ryan, who has been tending to his horse farm and doing some television work since the Eagles fired him, carried on an often bitter public feud with Eagle owner Norman Braman throughout his five-year Philadelphia stay.
For the Rams, the nightmare scenario with Ryan is that he would instigate a daily battle with either Frontiere or the front office played out in the media.
“The question is: Can he be trusted?” one Ram executive asked.
If the Rams do fire Robinson and cannot lure either Parcells or Ryan on their terms, there are other, lower-profile names on their search list: Washington Redskin chief assistant Richie Petitbon, University of Miami Coach Dennis Erickson, University of Florida Coach Steve Spurrier, Stanford Coach Dennis Green and San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, probably in that order.
But all of those names lack the snap and pop the Rams would want if they fired Robinson. Petitbon, 50, is the hottest assistant coach in the league and is a defensive specialist, exactly what the Rams would like.
But they like Fisher more, and probably would rather keep him in the wings--his $150,000-plus contract is guaranteed through 1993--than let Petitbon sweep out the current staff.
Erickson and Spurrier are offensive-minded, would probably push Zampese, signed through 1993, out of the picture; and they are lacking major NFL experience. The Rams already went through that with Robinson after his USC days and have no desire to do it again.
Green is intriguing, energetic, battle-tested, and has NFL experience, having served under Bill Walsh, who, sources say, is not a candidate. But Green also is an offensive coach and is not drawing great support. Holmgren is bright, but also would probably clear out the offensive staff and is not considered a motivator.
If the Rams choose to depart from the Robinson-Fisher scenario, it seems probable that they would go for a top name and not gamble with Petitbon or the others.
The deal Robinson signed last winter was designed to let him stay on at most for two more seasons, as Fisher learned the ropes in Anaheim. Fisher was to put in his attack-style defense this season, move into behind-the-scenes personnel matters next year as Robinson stayed as basically an interim coach, then take over the whole operation in January of 1993.
And that plan, apparently tacitly agreed to by Robinson after last year’s 5-11 tumble and now gaining Robinson’s enthusiastic encouragement, could have worked if the Rams had played even mediocre football.
But nobody expected Robinson’s ninth year to be a disaster, and the 3-10 record has been enough to chill the plans, at least temporarily.
Robinson told his staff last week that the front office doesn’t want to pull the trigger, that Shaw and Frontiere are dying to see a glimmer of improvement in the final month that would enable them to keep the staff together.
After Sunday’s 27-6 defeat by Washington, that glimmer is still invisible. Meanwhile, the shadows of Parcells and Ryan loom bigger and bigger.
Ram Numbers Highlight
TONY ZENDEJAS It’s ironic that while his team is having its worst season in a quarter of a century, Tony Zendejas is enjoying his best. The 31-year-old out of Chino is leading the Rams in scoring with 63 points, is perfect in field goal accuracy--14 of 14--and has kicked 21 of 22 extra points. His kickoffs have also given his team better field position. Yet, the Nevada Reno product hasn’t gotten much kick out of the Rams’ 3-10 season. Sunday, he provided the Rams with their only points against the Redskins when he booted 41- and 34-yard field goals. He’s 4 of 4 from between 20-29 yards 8 of 8 from 30 to 39 yards, 1 of 1 from 40 to 49 yards, and hit a 50-yarder against the Giants Sept. 8. SEASON TO DATE Thirteen-Game Totals (Record: 3-10) First Downs RAMS: 221 OPP: 233 Rushing Yards RAMS: 1,017 OPP: 1,356 Passing Yards RAMS: 2,860 OPP: 2,973 Punts/Average RAMS: 63/38.1 OPP: 55/42.1 Rushing RAMS: ATT: 311 AVG: 3.3 TDs: 10 OPP: ATT: 375 AVG: 3.6 TDs: 14 Passing RAMS: ATT: 411 CP: 235 TDs: 10 OPP: ATT: 356 CP: 213 TDs: 22 Penalties/Yards RAMS: 88/645 OPP: 70/644 Fumbles/Lost RAMS: 29/17 OPP: 15/7 Interceptions RAMS: 8/115 OPP: 13/116 Possession Time RAMS: 29:00 OPP: 31:00 Scoring by Quarters
1 2 3 4 OT TOTAL RAMS 19 90 48 40 0 197 OPP 85 83 50 98 0 316