By successfully recruiting Jeff Fisher to be his football coach, Rams owner Stan Kroenke boosted his image and reputation among the team's skeptical fans.
The hiring made several positive statements that reflect well on Kroenke.
No. 1, Kroenke wants to win. Bringing in Fisher is a significant step in the Sisyphean effort to end the Rams' chronic futility. It's easy for an owner to declare that winning is a priority, but this is the Show-Me State, and action is more important than words.
Leadership begins at the top or the organization. Kroenke's bold power move smashed any remaining doubts about his desire to reform the Rams. Fisher wouldn't have taken this gig unless he believed in Kroenke.
No. 2, Kroenke is financially committed. Kroenke edged out another billionaire, Miami owner Steve Ross, in the tense competition for Fisher. When Fisher's contract is finalized, he'll be among the NFL's highest-paid coaches with an annual salary that should average at least $7 million. Fisher was also granted a generous budget for hiring assistant coaches.
Kroenke undoubtedly agreed to bankroll other football-related hires made by Fisher. Kroenke is doing more than paying a head coach; he's funding a new football operation. That's a major investment.
In their last two head-coaching appointments the Rams passed on hiring more established and expensive head coaches. They filled a crucial job by taking a chance on unproven coordinators Scott Linehan (2006) and Steve Spagnuolo (2009.) Linehan and Spagnuolo had never been head coaches, and inexperience surely was a factor in their 21-63 record as the Rams' head coach.
No. 3, Fisher's hiring shows that Kroenke recognized the need to raise the morale in his organization and with the team's fan base.
The Rams employ a lot of quality people (non-football) who are good at what they do. But it's difficult to get the public to appreciate the community-outreach programs and fan-friendly gestures when the deeds are overshadowed by embarrassing beatdowns on game day. Fisher's hiring should put the Rams in a more positive light and raise the overall spirit at Rams Park.
As for the fans, Kroenke had to do something to earn the public's support. Rather than take the business for granted, Kroenke had to give a frustrated fan base a reason to buy tickets. Kroenke's aggressive attempt to renovate a failed football operation should go a long way in restoring credibility that's been greatly damaged during the drudgery of losing.
These are all positive developments, but I hope Kroenke understands that he still has a lot of work to do if he wants the fans to completely buy in.
Hiring Fisher was good for public relations, but Kroenke is still flunking in another critical area.
Kroenke won't be fully trusted or supported until he clarifies the team's future in St. Louis.
Kroenke won't get alienated fans rushing back to the Edward Jones Dome as long as they suspect he's plotting to move the team to Los Angeles. Some fans will withhold their ticket money and suspend their allegiance until Kroenke gives them a reason to believe that he truly wants to keep the franchise in St. Louis.
Kroenke can't expect fans to make a financial and emotional investment in him and his team unless he's willing to return that loyalty.
The unpleasant possibility of a Rams move flared up again during the Fisher negotiations. According to Post-Dispatch football writer Jim Thomas, a sticking point in the talks with Kroenke was Fisher's concerns about a potential Rams transfer to LA.
Obviously, Fisher put those anxieties aside and accepted the position. Kroenke caught a break. If Fisher had rejected the Rams, his decision would have set off doom and gloom assumptions of an inevitable Rams move. Even though Fisher is coming here, it doesn't mean the Rams are staying. The franchise almost certainly will be free to leave after the 2014 season, and Kroenke hasn't offered assurances to St. Louis or Rams fans.
A big part of this is leverage. The Rams and the St. Louis CVC soon will exchange proposals about upgrading the stadium. Kroenke isn't going to hurt his negotiating position by guaranteeing the team will remain in St. Louis.
I still believe that Kroenke wants to make it work here, but a move is certainly possible if Kroenke doesn't get what he wants. I don't trust him. There's really no reason to trust Kroenke unless he indicates, at minimum, a sincere desire to work for a solution and find a compromise to ensure the Rams' future in St. Louis.
Again, I understand why a cold businessman would stop short of issuing a full-on guarantee. But how does Kroenke expect fans and public officials to be motivated to support him and work through complex issues when he declines to convey even the slightest spirit of cooperation?
If nothing else, Kroenke should express at least some warmth, some encouraging sentiment, to provide a measure of optimism.
Kroenke had no problem warming up to fans of his Arsenal soccer club of the English Premier League. In a public meeting with fans and shareholders last fall, Kroenke said:
"We are glad to be here, are happy with the direction of the club and are here for the long term. We love London, you had better get used to seeing us, because we will be around."
Kroenke was happy to reach out to Arsenal fans who questioned his motives after he bought majority control of the club. Arsenal fans were anxious about Kroenke's financial commitment. Would he spend to maintain Arsenal's status among the EPL elite? Would he flip the franchise and sell it for a profit? Kroenke has reassured Arsenal fans. He's largely won them over.
It's time for Kroenke, the Missouri man, to do the same in St. Louis. Rams fans are pleased to applaud Kroenke for hiring Jeff Fisher to give the franchise a new start. But fans here are also on edge. They want to fully embrace Kroenke, but he won't allow them to do so.
Fisher may be the ideal coach to lead a Rams revival. Problem is, Kroenke won't tell them if this planned revival will take place in St. Louis or Los Angeles.