Frank Cignetti is the new offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams. That’s not news. But Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher and Cignetti sat down with the media on Friday afternoon and answered a few questions about Fisher’s final decision, the outlook of the Rams’ offense in 2015, what will change...and what will remain the same, and how players like Sam Bradford and Tavon Austin fit in the upcoming year.
Fisher: "What we wanted to do, obviously before we take off for the combine next week, is to give you an opportunity to visit with (Offensive Coordinator) Frank (Cignetti). Before we do so, I kind of want to talk about the process. When it was apparent to me that (former Offensive Coordinator) Coach (Brian) Schottenheimer was moving on, there was no doubt in my mind that I had his replacement on the staff. So, that would reflect all of the speculation-Well, we’re going to talk to this person, we’re going to talk to that person and then nothing really came to fruition there. I actually brought only one coach into the building that I was interested in talking to, knowing I think all along the way the right guy for us was on the staff. What we did was we rolled our sleeves up and I spent numerous times with Frank, numerous times with (Assistant Head Coach/Offense) Rob (Boras) going back through our offense:where we were, where we want to go and how we’re going to get there. It became apparent to me that Frank was the one to lead us. So, we had some great conversations. Everyone’s on the same page.
"Continuity, stability is very, very important to me and to the organization. Continuity, stability, same system for (QB) Sam (Bradford), same system for the rest of his teammates was very, very important and it was about how we get better. How we become more productive. How we’re more efficient offensively, and there was no doubt in my mind that Frank was the guy to lead us. I was really excited about all the information and the time I spent with Rob. Therein lies the reason that we promoted him to assistant head coach/offense. He’ll continue to coach the tight ends. Both Rob and Frank have already started, but they’re going to do a great job together with the direction and where we want to be. So, it was the perfect scenario. Again, I think if you follow my history, in the past we’ve promoted from within. I think if you’re doing things correctly you should be able to do that for the most part. So we’ve done that."
(On why he takes his time in the hiring process)
Fisher: "I think you’re rewarded for patience. I think we have an outstanding running back coach in Ben (Sirmans) and we interviewed eight different coaches before we hired Ben three years ago. I think you’re rewarded for patience. I think that’s important. Through the process, often times, different opportunities come up. That wasn’t the case here, it wasn’t what I was looking for. Frank and the staff have been working for the better part of 10 days now moving, on so this was not something we decided upon yesterday. They’ve been working together and we’re close to getting caught up from where most offensive staffs should be at in this point in the offseason."
(On since he knew he had two solid in-house options, part of the process was allowing out of house candidates to present ideas in order to do his due diligence, even if that was just a phone call)
Fisher: "I had several conversations on the phone just out of curiosity, but I never through the process did I have any serious intentions in getting somebody in talking. Particularly because of where we were. Your terminology, your run game philosophy, your game calling philosophy the understanding of your personnel - it’s engrained in you. From an organizational standpoint, I didn’t want to change any of that. I wanted to get better. I didn’t want to change things, I just wanted to get better. We needed to get better offensively to get us to that next step. I knew that this staff was qualified to do that. We just needed some new leadership and that’s what we have."
(On what he likes about Coach Cignetti and what are his assets)
Fisher: "He’s done a great job with the quarterbacks. I’m with him every day. We’re on the field, watch him interact. In particular, it’s his leadership skills. His experience in this offense. His flexibility, his ability to adjust and I have no concern whatsoever about his play calling ability because he’s called plays before."
(On what Assistant Head Coach/Offense Rob Boras’s role will be regarding the offense and run game)
Fisher: "This is going to be a staff effort with respect to the run game, which is going to be led by Frank and Rob’s going to be very much involved. When I made my decision, I called Ellen (Cignetti) and told his wife before I told him. I congratulated her first, and then I talked to both Frank and Rob and moments after they were both excited and they were ready to work. They were sitting there just exchanging ideas and ready to go. Back to your question, he’s going to have a lot more input, I’ll put it that way as far as which direction we go. Particularly, because I was really impressed with his presentations and his thoughts. Never was it a critical moment with respect to Brian (Schottenheimer), but this is how we move forward and Rob was outstanding in his vision and a lot of it paralleled with Frank."
(On if the wife is always the first to know)
Cignetti: "I tell you what my wife was happy. Coach Fisher made her day, that’s for sure."
(On if becoming an offensive coordinator in the NFL has been something he’s hoped for throughout his career)
Cignetti: "Well of course we all hope to elevate in our careers. When Coach Fisher and I first talked, I told him I wanted to be the coordinator and here’s why. I view coordinating as leadership. When you’re the coordinator you have the ability to inspire and to motivate, not only the offensive staff, but the players. I view it as putting people in a position to be successful. Put coaches in a position to be successful, put the players the position to be successful - there’s going to be ownership here. This is our offense. This is the St. Louis Rams’ offense and the coaches and players, we’re going to build this thing together. The thing that most attracted me, it’s not calling the plays because we’re going to game-plan together and we’re going to put a great plan together. Frankly, like we talked game day’s one of the easiest parts of it, in terms of calling it up not in terms of getting the execution. But, I’m looking forward to creating ownership, getting everyone bought in and just having fun."
(On how much emphasis is put on the game plan versus being in the moment and having to feel of what’s going on in the game)
Cignetti: "There’s a little bit of both. First off, you set your game plan. Let’s say we set our openers, our first 15, second 15. You set your situational openers. But, you’ve got to also be flexible to take advantage of something that’s there. There’s some intuition of, ‘Hey, it’s time to get a little bit off the openers because they can’t stop this.’ If a team can’t stop something, then let’s keep attacking them. The openers and the situational openers, that’s your roadmap. That’s what we’ve worked all week on designing to give us the best chance for success."
(On if he’s studied ways to improve the team’s third-quarter performance)
Cignetti: "We’re in the process of studying ourselves. Every team’s going through this process right now. You study yourself. You study your run game, your protections, your passing game, you study your calls. Every year you want to evolve and get better. Frankly, how we look at it is, ‘Hey, the past is the past, you study yourself.’ But we’re moving forward."
(On what his comfort level is with this offense and how much input he had in previous years)
Cignetti: "We all had input. Coach (Brian) Schottenheimer was the coordinator, he did a great job. As you game-plan, you have your run pods, you have your pass pod, you bring it all together. Every staff member has ownership. Everyone on the offensive staff is going to have ownership and everyone on the offensive staff understands the game plan."
(On what specific input he had on the offense when he was the quarterbacks coach)
Cignetti: "I guess what I’m alluding to, is we’ve all had input."
(On what he views as the biggest difference between him and Schottenheimer)
Cignetti: "The biggest difference? Because everyone is different. I think the biggest difference in myself is and I told (Head) Coach (Jeff Fisher) this, I want to be the offensive coordinator in terms of leadership and motivation. We want to hire a quarterback coach that will be the quarterback coach. I’m not going to be as involved with the quarterback as much as Coach Schottenheimer was involved. That would probably be the biggest difference."
(On what he presented to Fisher in his meetings)
Cignetti: "To repeat myself, I wanted to be the coordinator because I love to lead. I love to try to bring a group of men together, coaches and players, and try to make it something great, to go from good to great. As Coach and I sat down in our two meetings, I think what happened was we go to know each other better. Coach asked great questions. I was very comfortable in both conversations and if anything it just built our relationship. That’s the other thing that’s important in the leadership is you’ve got to care about people and build trusting relationships. I think through our process that’s what happened. We got to know each other better."
Fisher: "I personally had plenty of time to go back and reflect and look at the offense and identify some areas that need to be improved on. Like what you’re talking about with the third quarter stuff and the third-down efficiency and tying the run game to the play-action game and simplifying the offense and reducing things and establishing an identity and all those kind of things. So, those are the kind of things that we talked about and those are the things that were very attractive to me from a standpoint of not only his background, his experience just understanding offensive concepts, but also different ways of doing things. So, we are going to change, but change is good. This change is going to be very, very good for us."
(On if change in the offense means they are going to throw the ball 50 times a game)
Fisher: "No, we’re going to throw it less than 10 (times) every week." (laughs)
(On if the overall offensive philosophy will remain the same)
Fisher: "We’re saying the same thing that I think everybody else is saying. We need to do it better. We need to execute. We need to minimize mistakes. We need to reduce the amount of information that we’re giving to the players and go out and execute. Having the opportunity to go back and look at the individual games, individual situations and deficiencies over the last couple years, those are the areas that are going to change, that are going to improve."
(On Cignetti’s involvement with the quarterbacks now)
Fisher: "No, he’s coordinating now. He’s going to oversee everything. We’ll have a quarterback coach in place that’s going to help us. That process is ongoing. As it was reported, we did have Jeff Garcia in last night and today. I’ll continue to interview several others. We have some really solid options in place, but again, we’re going to probably take a little time before we make that decision."
(On how Cignetti being less involved with the quarterbacks differs from Schottenheimer)
Fisher: "I think as we move forward…not less involved. He’s going to allow the quarterback coach to spend more time with him in the meetings and on the field, which will be a little different than it has been in the past."
(On if there was too much volume in the offense in years past)
Fisher: "I think we agreed there was at times."
(On if the volume of the offense hindered some of the skill players)
Fisher: "I’m confident that our system will be such in April when the players come back for the offseason program, we’ll be simplified, but appear to be much more complex."
(On if the complexity of the offense is due to it being new)
Fisher: "Because of his thoughts and ideas and his experience."
(On if the language of the playbook will remain similar to the one the team has used the last three years)
Cignetti: "The foundation of the playbook is the same. Coach Schottenheimer’s put a terrific system in place here, the same system I was a part of when I was with the San Francisco 49ers. The foundation is going to be the same. Whether Coach Schottenheimer was still here or whether it was myself leading, every year you look at ways of doing things better. So, things that we talked about was how could we minimize terminology? So there’s certain things that we did in my past that we’ll be able to minimize terminology. So, as an offensive staff, we’re going to evaluate everything. If there’s a better way to learn, if there’s a better way to teach, then we’ll make changes. We’re not going to change just to make changes, but if it’s something that’s going to help us win football games, then we’ll make the necessary changes."
(On the importance of finding consistency at the quarterback position)
Cignetti: "We’re looking forward to Sam moving forward. He’s doing a great job in his rehabilitation. When you go back last year, he had an outstanding offseason. He had a great training camp. Unfortunately, in Cleveland he got injured. Moving forward, getting Sam back healthy will greatly increase our chances of winning."
(On the input Cignetti will have regarding potential personnel moves at the quarterback position)
Fisher: "He’ll have significant input on that. As I mentioned, that most likely is going to happen. It’s not as much from the standpoint of challenging Sam; it’s to have options. We don’t know what that looks like right now. We don’t know if that’s draft, free agency or what that looks like. But, when we line up in September, we’ll have somebody there."
(On if there’s been a ‘Frank Cignetti’ style of offense in his past coordinator jobs)
Cignetti: "I think you have a base identity as a play caller, which I think anybody who knows myself, I believe in running the football. You run the ball to win. The quarterback’s best friend is running the football, but you also have to be flexible enough to do whatever it takes to win a game. If you go back and look at all the different places I’ve coordinated, I think it’s important you take advantage of players’ abilities. Every place I’ve been, I’ve looked at the players and said, ‘How can I put them in a position to be successful?’ So, every stop along the way looks a little bit different in terms of thinking players, not plays. And, how do you get the ball in your playmakers’ hands?"
(On how helpful it is that he already has established relationships with the players)
Cignetti: "It helps tremendously. It helps tremendously that we have a great offensive staff in place, that we’ve been here together. We work well together. We know our strengths and weaknesses. We’re looking to make changes for the better. We’ve worked with the players now for three years and we have a great group of players. They work hard. They’re talented. They buy in. They give us everything. Coach (Fisher) has created an unbelievable environment for coaches and players to be successful. So, I think there’s an advantage for an offensive staff moving forward that we have continuity and we’ve been here."
(On how he views the potential of the offense)
Cignetti: "I don’t know why we can’t be great. I don’t think you ever put limits on anything. If you believe, you can achieve. We want to go from good to great and it’s a process. It takes one day at a time."
(On how his Fresno State teams went from run heavy to pass heavy during his tenure there)
Cignetti: "You have a guy like Bernard Berrian, who’s one of the best college football players and you want to get the ball in his hand because you can throw him a little bubble screen and it might end up in the end zone. So, you take a look at your personnel and how can you take advantage of their abilities. That’s just a quick example."
(On if he has any thoughts on how to get WR Tavon Austin more involved)
Cignetti: "Absolutely. (WR) Coach (Ray) Sherman and myself and the offensive staff, we’ve talked about that. Tavon Austin is an outstanding football player. I saw him here this week, fired up to get working with him. As Coach (Fisher) and I sat down, ‘Hey, you think players, not plays,’ especially in tough situations. Tavon Austin’s a playmaker."
(On if Bradford was in the loop during the process of hiring an offensive coordinator)
Fisher: "I had a lengthy discussion with Sam, yes, prior to making the decision. It was part of the information gathering process. Sam was very forthcoming. He had some firm opinions. I really enjoyed and appreciated his input."
(On if Cignetti would have been hired if Bradford had voiced objections about him)
Fisher: "We wouldn’t be sitting here right now."
Cignetti: "As it should be."
(On Bradford’s status regarding his rehab from ACL surgery and if they still hope to have him with the Rams)
Fisher: "That’s correct, yes. He’s been in the building since the season ended. He’s doing well."