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RAMS / TIM KAWAKAMI : Change Is Main Goal for Knox

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It was a season of little things put together, little moments that individually were nothing but spare scenes set against a barely changed backdrop.

Change the names a little, sprinkle in a few boring quotes, and is 6-10 really much different than 3-13?

During the work-a-day journey, 1992 seemed only a few degrees improved from its horror-show precedent--just a few more Cleveland Gary fumbles, Jim Everett interceptions and defensive Waterloos, and haven’t we seen this before?

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Was it this year or last that David Lang torched his shoe on the sideline in Green Bay? Or that Tom Newberry was a long holdout through camp? Or that Jerry Gray got benched? Or that Marcus Dupree got cut in preseason? Who remembers now? Should anybody?

After awhile, after 34 defeats in three years, it all sort of bleeds together, from week to week, penalty to penalty and loss to loss to loss.

But this year, at least, you had to lose focus on the trees to understand the changes in the forest. The games might have looked the same, but the big picture was unalterably different.

It was, when you finally step back and think about it, a season spent tearing away, both mentally and physically, from the legacy John Robinson left after nine years as the franchise’s coach, spokesman and main blunderer.

Chuck Knox, a man as opposite of Robinson as the Rams could have possibly hired, began the sweeping changes the instant he arrived at Rams Park, but nine years had left a hard trace, not easily wiped away.

Robinson represented the Rams’ recent glory years, of course, but also the trap of that success: The team lucked into the 1989 NFC Championship Game in a down year, then thought it was destined to eventually inherit the 49ers’ mantle of greatness.

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It meant taking the easy way out every time a hard decision loomed, and, with the media-friendly Robinson leading the way, a scramble to dodge responsibility when those decisions bombed.

It meant Robinson and his staff began lightening the workload, it meant a host of mediocre players culled from drafts the Rams could never get right, it meant a front office that didn’t care to exert itself financially to bail out a coach it detested, it meant players who didn’t care and couldn’t play lined the roster.

Four years later, the 49ers have reloaded and are gunning for the Super Bowl again, and the Rams are 14-34 since.

But through the year of Knox’s rule, the ghost of John Robinson, finally, is almost gone.

You still saw remnants of it through 1992--in Jim Everett’s inability at times to shoulder offensive blame because he was taught by the master blame-shirker; and you saw it in a roster devoid of young talent.

You will not, for better or worse, see remnants of it in 1993.

Knox has brought in a player like Sean Gilbert, whom Robinson might have shied away from because of some rough edges in his personality and play, but takes he it upon himself to dominate games and blames himself when he does not.

Knox has set up a fine system designed to get players on time to meetings or make them poorer for it. He has all but cleaned out the roster of such career-underachievers as Frank Stams and Fred Strickland.

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He has let it be known that there are no excuses left to claim.

He has already made it clear he is going to go after the new free-agent market hard and frequently, a notion that should not please many current Rams.

He has hinted that he might be willing to kiss off popular long-time Rams Kevin Greene and Henry Ellard for the simple reason that he thinks he can do better.

Does he know he might get criticized for this? Does he know Robinson would have never stuck his neck out this far, and that’s why he lasted nine years?

Shocking, just shocking.

The reality is that Knox, when you add up every detail and absorb every nuance of his dry public commentary, has taken total responsibility for where the franchise is heading and where it will go.

No questions about who controls what, who drafted whom, who has owner Georgia Frontiere’s ear. No excuses. No easy way out.

Chuck Knox runs things, and if it took a year and 10 defeats to thoroughly establish that, it was a good year.

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