Well, it finally happened. A day after tying the NFL record for most losses in a career, Jeff Fisher was fired by the Los Angeles Rams. The franchise officially clinched their fifth straight losing season under Fisher (and their 10th consecutive overall) in an embarrassing 42-14 loss to the Falcons on Sunday.
It was less than two weeks ago that an extension between the franchise and Fisher was leaked. Even though the contract was reportedly signed prior to the season, fans and members of the media have mocked owner Stan Kroenke for handing an extension to Fisher without a playoff berth, or even one winning record.
Now, a franchise with just four winning seasons over the last 27 years will look to start anew with a fresh face heading the ship. Hoping to send a jolt into the Los Angeles fanbase, Kroenke will likely attempt to make a splash with his next head coach.
First, let’s look at three ‘dream’ coaches for the Rams. Only one of these names seems viable at this point, but that hasn’t stopped media and fan speculation from growing. And, it probably won’t stop Kroenke from offering a big, fat check.
Yesterday afternoon, just hours after Fisher was fired, a name became the top trending item on Twitter and Facebook. Not just among trending sports topics; it was the number one trending thing on all of social media. That name was Jim Harbaugh.
We all know the book on the younger Harbaugh brother. The charismatic, fiery head coach has brought success to whatever school or franchise he’s gone to. He restored Stanford to glory before nearing winning a Super Bowl with the 49ers and a blossoming Colin Kaepernick (how things have changed. Now, at Michigan, Harbaugh has returned his alma mater to the top of the college football world, just missing out on this year’s College Football Playoff.
Fans and bloggers took Harbaugh’s name and ran with it after NFL insider Albert Breer casually mentioned it as a possibility. Here’s the quote, illuminated by FS1’s Colin Cowherd and transcribed by CBS Sports:
“By the way, Albert Breer on the way out said that Jim Harbaugh to the Rams rumor is a very real thing,” Cowherd said at the end of Breer’s segment.
Could Harbaugh really walk?
The line of thinking here is that Harbaugh, who thrives on great challenges, would jump at the chance to make professional football’s return to the nation’s second largest market successful. Additionally, he’d have the opportunity to get revenge against both 49ers CEO Jed York and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. He’s won with a variety of different quarterbacks in the past, and he’d certainly make a great mentor for number one overall pick Jared Goff.
But, just two years into his tenure with the Wolverines, Harbaugh has plenty of unfinished business. His goal is to win a national championship, and many of them. His connection to the university runs thick, as well. Prior to last year’s Ohio State game, Harbaugh cracked a buckeye on the grave of legendary Michigan head coach, Bo Schembechler:
Harbaugh smashing a buckeye after speaking to the group on the walk to visit graves of Bo, Yost and Ufer pic.twitter.com/uPgt8tKfQt
— angelique (@chengelis) November 25, 2015
Wolverine fans were further comforted by this note, shared by Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman:
Source very close to Jim Harbaugh just texted me: "Jim isn't leaving Michigan. He may never leave Michigan."
Just passing along.
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) December 13, 2016
Harbaugh track record shows that he never stays in one place for all that long. But, at this point, he appears to be settled in Michigan for at least the next few years.
Speaking of Carroll, his name has also been brought up as a very speculative possibility for LA’s coaching vacancy. His candidacy was sparked primarily by the media in Los Angeles, who harkened back to his run of glory at USC.
His departure from Tinseltown was less than glorious. He left Southern Cal high and dry right after NCAA sanctions came down upon them. A bowl ban and lost scholarships, stemming from infractions committed during Carroll’s tenure, forced the program to rebuild over the last eight years or so. They just returned to the Rose Bowl this season.
Could Carroll capture the fervor of the city once again and make the NFL’s return to LA a success? Sure. But will he? Don’t bet on it.
Carroll has built the Seattle Seahawks into a perennial powerhouse. With one Lombari Trophy under his belt, a pair of Super Bowl appearances, and a number of division titles and playoff appearances, Carroll has morphed the Seahawks into one of the great teams and organizations in the modern NFL.
Why Carroll won’t come to LA
Pete’s never short on enthusiasm, but he doesn’t have anything left to prove. He’s won in the college ranks, and he’s become an incredibly successful NFL coach. The idea of starting from the ground level and rebuilding a roster, in the same division as his current employer, is a very daunting task.
Hoping to quiet the murmurs, Carroll shot down the speculation earlier this afternoon. From ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez:
Asked if he would like to rule the possibility out entirely, Carroll laughed and said, “Yes.”
If you think these first two candidates are ridiculous, you’re not alone. They don’t call it a coach “wish list” for nothing.
Now we’re toeing the line between crazy and realistic.
Jon Gruden, current ESPN broadcaster and former NFL head coach, was another big name immediately connected to the head coaching vacancy in Los Angeles. But, unlike the other two, there haven’t been many reports on the contrary.
After taking the job at ESPN, Gruden continued to religiously watch game film and scout players, schemes, and organizational methods. His dedication to the game has made him one of the best color commentators out there, and it’s also what made him such a celebrated head coach.
He never quite got over the hump with the Oakland Raiders (he was mercilessly by Al Davis fired after the tuck rule game), but he won a Super Bowl in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He last coached in 2008.
Gruden’s enthusiasm for football is perhaps only paralleled by Jim Harbaugh. As a broadcaster, he finds the positives in any team, which bodes well for a Rams organization that has a number of holes and question marks on the roster.
Is Gruden the right pick?
There’s actually some factual backing to this rumor, too. From the LA Times’ Sam Farmer:
Those close to Gruden have indicated he would listen to a Rams pitch, however, and that he might be interested in a return to coaching after seven years as color analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
It’s worth noting that Gruden and Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ top executive, worked together with the Buccaneers.
Given the long rope Fisher received, Gruden likely wouldn’t have to worry about job security for quite some time with the Rams. Leaving his incredible gig at ESPN for the very stressful job of leading a franchise out of the doldrums could end up being a deal breaker, but Gruden is a coach at heart. This might finally be the opening that gets him back into the NFL.
Now, let’s get to some more realistic candidates. There are plenty of other great options, but given the Rams’ need to drastically improve their offensive performance, we’ll look at three of the hottest offensive coordinators in the NFL today.
The Rams got a front row seat to the Kyle Shanahan show with the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. With a growing chemistry between himself and quarterback Matt Ryan, Shanahan has morphed Atlanta’s offense into the most potent attack in the NFL this season. That is the polar opposite of the Rams, who are currently last in the NFL in both scoring and total offensive yardage.
Shanahan has bounced around four organizations as an OC since 2008, but given his success with the Falcons, it’s believed within the NFL that he’ll get a head coaching offer either the year, or the year after at the latest.
Parallels were drawn between Goff and Ryan when he came out of college, and the numbers from their first few starts are quite similar. Ryan started from day one though, and the sample size is still incredibly small. But, along with Todd Gurley, Shanahan could see Los Angeles as a great opportunity to break into the NFL’s head coaching fraternity.
It’s been six years since McDaniels’ failed head coaching stint with the Denver Broncos, and it finally appears that he’s ready for another chance. After one season as offensive coordinator for the Rams in 2011, McDaniels took over the job once again with his old employer, the New England Patriots.
Alongside Bill Belichick, McDaniels has once again flourished. Some people argue that he’s set up to succeed with Tom Brady and Belichick on his side, but that kind of experience is invaluable, and he’s credited with much of the play calling. His 3-1 record with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett was impressive, as well.
He wouldn’t be the flashiest of hires for Kroenke in the Los Angeles market, but his innovative offensive outlook on the game and his experience developing quarterbacks make him an appealing candidate for the Rams.
Finally, let’s get to the last candidate on our list: the legend that is Jim Bob Cooter.
After working in a variety of offensive assistant positions, Cooter became the offensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions in 2015. In his two seasons, Matthew Stafford and the rest of Detroit’s O has become one of the stronger units in the NFL. He successfully transitioned the team out of the Calvin Johnson-era, with the Lions currently holding the NFC’s number two seed.
Part of Cooter’s allure is the fun that one gets out of saying his full name out loud. But, this quote from Peyton Manning on Cooter’s time with both the Indianapolis Colts and the Broncos is much more captivating. From M Live’s Kyle Meinke:
“Phillip Fulmer called Caldwell and said, ‘I’ve got a great young guy for you,” Manning said. “I remember kind of seconding the motion to Caldwell, and he hired Jim Bob.
“Since then, he’s been on a fast climb, but he’s earned it. He’s a hard-working guy, very smart, and he just sees football and knows football.”
“I enjoyed the couple years we had together in Indy, and he was really helpful to me in Denver in 2013.”
Could Cooter be LA’s man?
Cooter was a walk-on quarterback behind Manning at Tennessee, and while his talent was limited, his football IQ was not.
Cooter lacks in experience, but he would be a fresh face for a Rams locker room transitioning from an old school coach. And, he just might be the right guy to develop Jared Goff into the quarterback the team envisioned him as when they traded away the house just to have the right to draft him.