While the Rams are 0-6 with 10 weeks remaining in the 2011 season, the fan base has had enough, and is crying for change. Both local and national media want to hear from majority owner Stan Kroenke on the state of his franchise.
Having worked in the league as a front-office executive with two different organizations (Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams), I’ve been in this same situation with both. It is hard to explain to fans and others how hard it is to get even one win in the NFL, with so many losing seasons stacking up and the future looking grim.
Despite being surrounded by talented and motivated professionals, battling and fighting to find a way to get a win each and every week is the goal, it is still extremely hard at this level of competition. When fans look at other teams winning eight-plus games a year, and several teams in the playoffs on a consistent basis, the fans who are supporting their losing teams have the right to ask why not us, what the hell is going on.
A high majority of the NFL owners generally address the media once a year at the league meetings. When I worked for Jerry Richardson, (Big Cat) owner and founder of the Carolina Panthers, he would talk to the local media in special situations. During my tenure (11 years), it happened very seldom, the last time I remember the team went 1-15. Richardson called a press conference to announce that George Seifert was no longer the head coach of the Panthers, because he literally had driven the organization into the ground and brought the Panthers fan base to their knees. This was one of the only times he spoke twice in a year. While Kroenke has not and probably won’t address the media or fan base on the state of the franchise during this 0-6 start, trust me when I say accountability will come at the end of the season.
He will comb through the franchise (front office, coaches and players), review the entire operations, sponsorship and marketing departments as well, and will soon put his architectural touches on a franchise that seems to be spiraling downward.
It is not fun for the employees and fans to see the Rams at the bottom of the NFL, where it is dark and cold. There is a lot of pressure at the bottom, just like there is at the ocean floor. I’m not a scientist or an oceanographer, but I remember a few things from my oceanography class. For instance, benthoses are sea animals that spend their entire lives near or on the bottom of the ocean floor. Lobsters, worms, starfish and other various ocean life swim endlessly.
It is not breaking news that better NFL franchises are structured the same way. It starts with strong ownership. That direction creates a solid foundation and a winning tradition. Kroenke understands the most valuable members of his team are the fans. A strong and supportive fan base is the key to driving revenue and bringing profits to the organization. Build a championship team through the draft, while adding key free agents when needed. All aspects of the organization (both business and football operations) must run in the same direction at optimal speed. Once that is accomplished, talent evaluation will remain the key to the future.
Winning is the bottom line for any sports franchise, which allows a franchise to stay on top. Winning is contagious allowing teams to stay away from the proverbial bottom of the ocean floor where coaches and general managers face extreme pressure, and where it is dark and cold. Teams strive to be like a competitive feisty sailfish, enjoying fresh air and weather while moving toward the ultimate destination.
Kroenke will encourage and demand smart business decisions, aggressive and creative marketing and corporate sales. This will ensure a smooth finish to the rock-solid foundation. The product is his team: the players. The Rams’ organization must distinguish themselves from the 31 other NFL teams, to gain a competitive edge and championship mindset.
They must transcend from a good personnel department to a great personnel department. To accomplish that, you first need to change the trajectory in which the department is presently moving and aim higher in order to achieve the ultimate goal, winning the Super Bowl.
It has been said many times, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is a matter of conscious choice.” Everyone needs to work and stay together during these hard tough times. Ownership, executive management and the head coach (along with support staffs) and business side of the house. Together as a team everyone will achieve greatness.
Looking at the current situation, I see several challenges in front of the Rams. The personnel department should focus equally on what not to do and what to stop doing, to ensure a bright and successful transformation. The main goal is to identify and acquire Blue players (playmakers and difference-makers) that fit Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme to ensure a solid championship foundation, allowing limitless possibilities with greatness in the near future. Coaches developing players quickly is equally as important.
The Rams organization must re-evaluate their roster, identify players that are overvalued as well as undervalued and build with youth through the college draft each year. This direction will help the organization get to the next level while working on strategic ideas and methodologies that will develop a winning formula.
With the new CBA (collective bargaining agreement) in place, the salary cap heightens the need for communication within the front office. One important factor is to make sure the salary cap/contract negotiators and talent evaluators are on the same page. They must agree on the value that the player brings to the team from a personnel point of view while not handicapping the organization with future cap problems. Financial responsibilities as well as player evaluations are both critical aspects of an organization.
Here are my key attributes to building teamwork and a championship NFL organization to get it back on track:
- 1. Starts with Kroenke’s ownership vision, goals and direction
- 2. Management being aggressive and making hard/unpopular decisions.
- 3. Innovative coaching and player development.
- 4. Players with good character, who are smart, tough, competitive, productive and have a passion for the game.
- 5. Successful habits are structured and repeated.
- 6. Demand change or constant improvement. Operate in environment where change is encouraged not discouraged.
In the end, Kroenke will have to change the culture and address the key principles of building a winning organization from the ground up, and show what is important to ownership as it applies to football operations, marketing and sales as well as how it pertains to the long-term success of building a winning organization.
The architect of several sports franchises that seems to have the golden touch, Kroenke has a plan in place, and will soon have to address his blueprint, but when it comes to this season, he will let it play out first.