The Los Angeles Rams lost their way during the 2022 season. The team that fans had grown used to watching under head coach Sean McVay looked like a shell of its former self. The culture that had been built was non-existent and the talent put together by general manager Les Snead was decimated by injury. The Rams were missing both pieces of the team-building puzzle last season and that showed with a 5-12 record.
When McVay arrived in Los Angeles following the firing of Jeff Fisher, the Rams had a culture of losing. The team hadn’t had a winning season in over a decade and sniffed the playoffs just once, losing in the season finale to the Seattle Seahawks in a win-or-go-home game for the NFC West division title.
The stretch between 2007 to 2009 in which the Rams won a combined six games might be one of the worst three year stretches for any team in the history of the NFL. Whatever you think about the worst franchise in the NFL right now i.e. the Houston Texans, the Rams during that era were worse.
Coming off a a 4-12 season, number one overall pick Jared Goff looking like a bust, and a plethora of other issues, it looked as if the Rams may never escape this Groundhog Day cycle of poor results.
Then Sean McVay walked in the building.
He brought with him a “We Not Me” mindset and an accountability that was severely lacking. As ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez described at the time,
“McVay joined the Rams with a clear vision for what his team would represent, but he was able to integrate it with the best of what the organization already had. He took control, but he empowered others. He pushed his players, but not harder than he pushed himself. He communicated his message, but he also listened. He built a following, but he never demanded it. He set the standard, but he put the onus on others to uphold it.”
While the Rams had talent under Fisher, they lacked the culture that comes with being a successful franchise. Snead replaced deadweight talent in the 2017 offseason. Robert Woods and Andrew Whitworth were brought in during free agency to fit the new culture in the building. Without Woods and Whitworth, it’s hard to say that the Rams reach the heights that they eventually did.
Snead’s “F Them Picks” mindset allowed the Rams to surround their talent with superstars and integrate them into the culture. Jalen Ramsey came from a toxic situation in Jacksonville and then fit in seamlessly when he arrived in Los Angeles. Ndamukong Suh and Odell Beckham Jr. were also both seen as “problem players” in their careers and made positive impacts with the Rams. It can be difficult to manage the egos of superstar players, especially in Los Angeles. The culture that McVay built allowed them to do just that.
Winning certainly helps and the Rams lost a lot in 2022. For the first time in the McVay era, players started calling each other out. Following a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ramsey called out the offense for putting constant pressure on the defense. The Rams lacked the leadership that helped build their culture in 2017. McVay became distant and with that came a team that lacked direction.
As The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue described in an article after the season,
“(McVay) became emotionally distant from players and staff, consumed by his frustration. Sky-high expectations had been replaced by problems that the meticulous coach couldn’t control, and it was infuriating to him.”
Not only did the Rams lose their culture, but they lost their talent. With the losses of Stafford, Kupp, and Donald to injury added on to the injuries to the offensive line, Los Angeles didn’t stand much of a chance in 2022.
When we talk about culture, it’s thought of as this idea or feeling within an organization. The Rams lost their identity last season and that’s a reflection of the culture. Culture or talent? The Rams need both if they are to turn it around.
NFL Network’s Peter Schrager recently gave his thoughts on this when it comes to the Miami Heat and it’s very relevant to the Rams. Despite not having the most talented roster in the NBA, Erik Spoelstra has created a culture of winning. They've made it to at least the Eastern Conference finals in three of the last four years.
Culture and talent.— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) May 30, 2023
Not culture OR talent.
A few thoughts on the Miami Heat and why they’re such an inspiring model for all winning teams and companies. pic.twitter.com/YjbJSmAxZH
For those of you that are fans of the show Ted Lasso (I won’t spoil the ending for those that haven’t seen the finale), Ted changed the culture within the AFC Richmond organization, and turned them into one of the best football clubs in the English Premier League. Jamie Tartt went from a “me” player, to someone who puts the team first and reached his potential because of that change. It’s a fictional example, but still somewhat relevant.
McVay needs to reinvigorate that culture that he introduced in 2017. The talent will come as the Rams get more resources in 2024 with premier draft picks and salary cap to spend on top free agents. However, when those players arrive, it’s crucial that they enter a high culture environment.
The Rams are in a re-build, but it may not be in one that you expect. McVay needs to re-build the culture that set him up for success to begin with. Look no further in the importance of that than Spoelstra and the Heat. If McVay can accomplish that feat, the Rams will be back to their winning ways in no time.