In the comments of my first "Blueprint for Rebuilding" on the 2008 Dolphins, JordansDad raised a pertinent question:
isnt what they did in 99 considered a rebuild? or is it just a turn around? going from 4-12 to 13-3
Here's my response: The '99 Rams are definitely worthy of a look back, but we all know that story by heart, don't we? ;)
But it's funny, it's actually a very different type of rebuilding scenario than the situation we face right now - they had 90% of the foundation players, they just needed to acquire the skill players and change in coaching philosophy to get it to click. Prior to January, none of the 2008 Rams matches up position-for-position with any of the returning starters that the 1998 Rams had. (Perhaps Chris Long vs. Grant Wistrom will be a push. But Wistrom set a pretty high bar in 1999, so we'll see.)
Key foundation players (pre-1999):
WR Isaac Bruce
LT Orlando Pace
LG Fred Miller (moved to RT)
WR Ricky Proehl
MLB London Fletcher (backup most of 1998)
DE Kevin Carter
DE Grant Wistrom (backup most of 1998)
LB Mike Jones
LB D'Marco Farr
LB Roman Phifer
CB Todd Lyght
That's not a bad foundation, they were just screwed by the complete void at QB and RB. Of course, they had this rawboned journeyman quarterback named Warner under contract, playing in Amsterdam. Might as well invite him to camp, right?
A rough timeline of key changes:
- 1998: Rams sign Kurt Warner and assign him to the World League of American Football. (importance: 0 stars at the time, 5 stars later)
January 1999: Vermeil is politely urged by John Shaw and company to overhaul his staff and his coaching philosophy. Vermeil realizes his job may be on the line, and takes heed. (importance: *** ... I give some credit for the last smart move the old front office ever made, both sticking with Vermeil and lighting a fire under him.)
- January 1999: Offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome is replaced with Mike Martz. (importance: ***** ... though I could be just grading the difference in effectiveness.)
- There might be others? I couldn't find very good archives (thanks for nothing, STL Today!) going back this far. I believe they already had Jim Hanifan, John Bunting, Wilbert Montgomery, etc.
Free agent acquisitions:
The Rams' offense in 1998 was downright putrid, as bad as any team Rich Brooks ever coached. Banks simply had to go. The running back situation had been unsettled and unproductive since Bettis left town. The offensive line was weak, but had a foundation player in Pace to build around.
- February 1999: Rams sign Trent Green to replace Tony Banks. (importance: **** ... even though he didn't play a snap in the regular season, Green was the prototype quarterback for the Martz offense.)
- February 1999: Rams sign a young Adam Timmerman away from the Packers. (importance: **** .... this nasty run-blocker solidified an offensive line that certainly contributed to the lack of rushing attack, and helped make up for a lack of strength over center.)
- Spring 1999: Rams trade a 2nd and 5th-round pick to Indianapolis for Marshall Faulk. (importance: *****(*) ... without Faulk, the Rams do not make the postseason in '99. No question. And yes, that's six stars on a scale of 1 to 5.)
The 1999 Draft
Again, the Rams did not focus on core players here, as their core was already pretty well solidified. But they did hit on two perimeter players, one on offense and one on defense.
- April 1999: Rams draft Torry Holt in the first round (#6 overall), the first WR chosen. Ironically, the Colts took Edgerrin James at #4 overall, to replace Faulk. If the Faulk trade had not happened, it's conceivable those picks might have been reversed. (importance: **** ... Holt's talent, swagger and refreshing attitude helped transform the culture of the team and its fans in St. Louis.)
- April 1999: Rams draft Dre Bly in the second round. (Importance: **)
Or, call it Destiny? Teams don't plan for stuff like this, they just happen and the team rides the karmic wave up or down.
August 1999: Trent Green is sacked, lost for the season. Kurt Warner takes over at quarterback. (Importance: *** ... don't get me wrong, Warner played out of his mind and was indispensable in the playoffs, but in my opinion the Rams would have made the playoffs, and a dramatic turnaround from 3-13, with Trent Green at QB as well.)
The Statement Game
Week 4, a 42-20 victory over San Francisco at the Dome. The Rams had lost I think 17 in a row to the 49ers prior to this game. (edit: Wikipedia says 17 of their previous 18.) The new-look Rams had started 3-0 over the season with pretty convincing wins over Baltimore, Atlanta (who went to the Super Bowl in 1998), and Cincinnati, but still hadn't proved anything to their long-time nemeses. All the Rams did was score touchdowns on their first three possessions, take a 28-10 first half lead, and then put their foot on the Niners' throats in the second half. Warner had five TD passes in the game.
The rest you all know by now....