Well, we’re getting closer. Organized team activities are over, and tomorrow the Los Angeles Rams will start their three-day minicamp. So as the offseason progresses, we’re getting closer to the regular season...which means we’re getting closer to Monday theme week questions!
Today around SB Nation NFL sites, we’re asking a simple question. What if?
Big Blue View is asking New York Giants fans what if they had drafted QB Ben Roethlisberger instead of QB Eli Manning? Cincy Jungle is wondering what things might have looked like if QB Carson Palmer hadn’t had his ACL tear against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2006 playoffs. And at Pats Pulpit, New England Patriots fans are being asked what if Pete Carroll hadn’t been fired back in 1999. That one sure might be an interesting read for USC fans...
So today, I’m looking back at one weekend and wondering what if. The first weekend of 2017. A weekend that irrevocably changed the course of the Rams as a franchise.
It’s worth remembering where things stood.
The Rams had just completed their first season back in LA by going 4-12, firing Head Coach Jeff Fisher, and running QB Jared Goff out to a miserable 0-7 start in his rookie season as part of one of the NFL’s worst offenses in history. Things weren’t looking good. But with the opportunity to hire a new head coach, there was reason to think things could get turned around at some point. The question was who to hire. And so it was that with the Patriots having earned a first-round bye in the 2017 NFL Playoffs, the trio of Chief Operating Officer/Vice President Kevin Demoff, Senior Assistant Tony Pastoors and General Manager Les Snead were in Boston to interview Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia for the Rams’ head coaching vacancy. The list of candidates had already been reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, so their meetings with McDaniels and Patricia were no surprise. Nor was the timing with the bye allowing the Rams to meet with them before the Patriots got into their postseason action which ultimately led to them winning Super Bowl LI. But that timing also meant the Rams had one other candidate they had to interview that weekend: Atlanta Falcons Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Shanahan did a fantastic job as the Falcons’ OC in 2016 leading them into the postseason as the highest-scoring team in the NFL with a balanced attack in their passing and rushing games. Having spent four seasons as the OC for Washington, one as OC with the Cleveland Browns and now two with the Falcons, Shanahan was understandably a hot commodity as a head coaching prospect. And with the Falcons also enjoying a first-round bye, teams had a window to interview him before the Falcons began their game preparations in earnest. The Rams, understandably, were one of those teams. Team with head coaching vacancy needing offensive jolt + hot offensive coordinator = sure.
But with the Rams’ trio needing to get down to Atlanta from Boston, fate struck in the form of that dastardly villain known to all travelers: weather.
A storm hit the northeast on Friday and prevented the Rams’ brass from getting out. Stuck for a couple of days, by the time they got out of Boston Shanahan had to focus on getting the Falcons ready for their playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.
It gave the Rams a chance to review the candidates they had already interviewed which led to them bringing back a candidate they had talked to the Thursday before they had headed out to Boston: Washington OC Sean McVay.
McVay, who had served on Shanahan’s offensive staff as the assistant tight ends coach for a season before taking a promotion to the tight ends coach for three seasons. After Kyle Shanahan’s father, Mike Shanahan, was fired after the 2013 season, new Washington Head Coach Jay Gruden promoted McVay to his offensive coordinator. For three seasons, McVay helped the young offense led by QB Kirk Cousins grow into one of the league’s better units. So despite his youth compared to other head coaching candidates, McVay was being looked upon positively in coaching circles.
Having been impressed with him in their first interview, the Rams’ trio circled back to McVay after being unable to link up with Shanahan on that fateful weekend. The Rams were moving on from even talking to Shanahan.
So it’s fair to wonder.
What if the Rams had made it to Atlanta to talk to Kyle Shanahan?
Might they have been as impressed with Shanahan as McVay? Might they have delayed their pursuit of McVay to wait for the Falcons’ playoffs to end to consider both candidates? Might they have missed out on McVay with another team coming in to offer him a job? Who might the San Francisco 49ers have hired instead of Shanahan as they did the day after Super Bowl LI? How might things look for the renewed Rams-49ers rivalry with these two being linked together for years?