We are now down to the final week of this decidedly disappointing Rams season, which has only been notable for producing almost as many losses as offensive touchdowns. With results like this, you have to imagine that Rams owner Stan Kroenke must be up to something.
A lot of us have been guessing that Kroenke's priority will be immediately deciding the fates of his general manager, Billy Devaney, and head coach, Steve Spagnuolo. But for the sake of this long-suffering franchise, let's hope Kroenke has his priorities in better order than that. Kroenke has more pressing business to attend to than merely deciding who should be his GM and coach. The most important thing he can do for the long-term good of this franchise is to solve the one institutional problem that has dragged this organization down for decades.
He needs to hire someone to be in charge.
Since the Rams arrived in St. Louis — through every coach who has been hired or fired, for every new general manager, vice president or other fancy title that some front office executive has held — the one glaring trouble with this organization is been figuring out where the buck stops.
We never can figure out who's the ultimate authority figure at Rams Park.
During the John Shaw years, you always got the sense that was done by some Machiavellian design. Whenever you asked someone who made a particularly controversial decision, the answer you heard most often was "wasn't me."
I began to think that this guy, Wasn't Me, was the most powerful man in the organization. That intentional dysfunction created a lack of accountability that ultimately wrecked the franchise.
With the new Rams regime, there's still no one in charge but it seems to be more of a design flaw than a well-orchestrated strategy. With Devaney and Spagnuolo, now at least there is a better sense of accountability because we know that Devaney's in charge of the draft and signing free agents and Spagnuolo is in charge of the on-field product.
But based on the current organizational structure, they share the power — which means we still don't know where the buck stops. There is no one on the football side of the organizational structure who can veto either man. There's no one who can question Devaney's decisions on why he might pass on a particular player in the draft or waiver wire. But there is also no one to overrule Spagnuolo's decisions once the season starts (such as starting the season with only two quarterbacks on the roster or releasing a young and promising kid for an over-the-hill veteran).
In football, there's an old saying that goes like this: When you have two starting QBs, it usually means you don't have one starting QB.
Well, the same thing goes for bosses.
The Rams' biggest organizational problem is they have two bosses, which is one boss too many. So let's hope that Kroenke resists the preoccupation that the rest of the football world has with his coach and GM. He has to know the most pressing issue for this organization is to have a football CEO in the building every day, someone who everyone knows is in charge, someone who has the big office in the corner with the sign on his desk that says "The Buck Stops Here."
In most successful operations, there are no blurred lines that lead you to the top of the food chain. There is no confusion about ultimate authority. In New England, everyone knows it's Bill Belichick's organization. In Baltimore, Ozzie Newsome is the man who makes the final call. In Indianapolis, Bill Polian has been in charge for years.
It's time for the Rams to have that sort of clarity, too.
There's a lot of work to be done at Rams Park. The next few weeks and months should prove to be far more fascinating than anything the football team produced over the past four months of Sundays. The Rams are in a remarkably good position concerning the draft. Whether they land the first or second pick, this makes them even more attractive for anyone interested in coming to St. Louis. What's not to like about the potential for building around a young franchise-type QB who already is in place, and being able to restock the shelves with prime draft picks and a lot of salary-cap room to pursue free agents? (It's $30 million according to the calculations of Sports Illustrated's Peter King.)
As part of his usual business strategy, Kroenke is an extremely private man. He doesn't tell a lot of people what is on his mind and when he does, it's usually not going to leak out publicly before he wants it to do so.
That's one of the reasons rumors coming out of San Diego that Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and former NFL coach-turned broadcaster Jon Gruden already are part of some package deal to St. Louis don't quite ring true. In time we'll see if that was good intelligence or a clever negotiating strategy designed to improve Smith's position with the Chargers.
In the meantime, the more pressing need is for a football CEO in Rams Park. A few months ago, a veteran player asked me a rather interesting question that had been making the rounds in the locker room.
"Who's in charge, Billy or 'Spags'?"
I told him I really didn't know.
"That's OK," said the player, "Neither do we."
That's a problem for an organization when the players aren't sure where the buck stops.
Let's hope Kroenke changes that as quickly as possible.