The path to 2-9 has been a rocky one for the St. Louis Rams. Various bumps and calamities along the way provided fans more than enough wonder and despair. Sam Bradford's sophomore slump has been the most difficult thing for fans. Drafting Bradford truly marked the beginning of a new era for the Rams, a bright future to match the innocent grin on the lanky kid from Oklahoma. Fans wince and grimace, like the quarterback, with every hit he takes. Each pass he throws off-target while under duress makes fans think of a franchise one yard away from swamp the past that Bradford was supposed to break with.
All of that was a long and probably needlessly dramatic way to say that the Rams screwed up in the decision to not hire a quarterbacks coach. Watching Bradford struggle with everything from a new offense to the more mundane quarterback tasks, it looks like one of the more fateful decisions made by the Rams this season.
Now, the Rams are taking some more heat for the decision, and a little research shows that Josh McDaniels is working with a set of offensive coaches who predate him in St. Louis. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Former quarterback Gus Frerotte agrees, as he told the Post-Dispatch.
I don't think there's any doubt you've gotta have a quarterback coach. It's the most important position. It's the guy that touches the ball every play. You've got to treat that ball like gold in a sense.
Compare the Rams' situation at quarterback with that of their opponent this week, the San Francisco 49ers. Alex Smith existed more as a cautionary tale of first-round picks gone bad and the dangers of switching offensive coordinators and schemes every year. Few expected the 49ers to re-sign him, even fewer would have predicted his success this season.
Instead Smith has been a steady presence for the 49ers. His performance and his stats hardly compare to Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, and he isn't being asked to play that way. New head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are using Smith in a way that fits his limited skill set, simplifying the game plan and working with him on the new offense. What they're doing with Smith isn't exactly a miracle, but for the first season in his career, the guy is playing decent football, even while learning a new offensive system.
They also hired a quarterbacks coach, a dedicated quarterbacks coach. Geep Chryst (that's the handle his ever lovin' mother gave him) was a tight ends coach and offensive assistant in Carolina for five years prior to this one. Also on his resume, he was Jim Harbaugh's quarterbacks coach.
Years ago one of my former bosses, a man who could be a real SOB and held his staff to very high standards, explained to me his philosophy on hiring, specifically hiring staff to work with you when you take on a big new project. Don't hire the most impressive resume, he said. Hire someone you know and trust that has the knowledge and the ability to help you get your project started off off quickly, correctly and headed in the right direction. Later on down the road, you can rethink how it gets done or who runs it, but starting off right is paramount.
The exact reason why the Rams did not hire a quarterbacks coach is unclear. I'm starting to wonder if there aren't some larger issues of trust inside Rams Park, bad mojo between Spagnuolo and McDaniels. It is worth noting that McDaniels inherited his offensive coaching staff. None of the position coaches and assistants for the Rams offensive staff were added after hiring McDaniels. It's hard not to wonder how that played into the thinking to forego hiring a quarterbacks coach.
Regardless, the fact remains that the Rams did not hire a quarterbacks coach, and it shows.