Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rams' coaching search could include Jim Harbaugh, ex-Buc Jon Gruden

LOS ANGELES — Buckle up. This won't be a typical NFL coaching search.

The Los Angeles Rams opening, created Monday when they fired Jeff Fisher, is viewed differently around the league than most.

First, it's for a job in the nation's No. 2 market and all the potential that entails, especially with a $2.6 billion stadium scheduled to open in 2019. There's the appeal of working with No. 1 pick Jared Goff, who has had a bumpy start but nonetheless is seen as a quarterback with a high ceiling.

Then there's the reality that Stan Kroenke, among the league's richest owners, has so much at stake with the Inglewood stadium, and selling personal seat licenses, that he will need to think big when it comes to hiring the next coach — and has the wherewithal to pay accordingly.

With that in mind, the spectrum of possible candidates is wide and flashy. Several household names already have bubbled to the surface, coaches who might not be mentioned in more routine searches.

Some will prove to be real candidates, while others probably won't get past the rumor stage.

Among the most intriguing names circulating Monday were Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Super Bowl-winning-coach-turned-broadcaster Jon Gruden, both of whom specialize in working with quarterbacks. Hiring either probably would require Kroenke to break the bank and pay more than $10 million per year, something he hasn't shown a particular willingness to do to this point. (He was paying Fisher about $6.5 million annually, quite generous for a coach whose Rams career consisted of five consecutive losing seasons.)

In his second season at Michigan, Harbaugh is college football's top-paid coach at $9 million a year. He's a rock star there, as he was in San Francisco, where he turned around the 49ers and got them to a Super Bowl and three consecutive NFC title games. Whether he burns out on places or places burn out on him, he doesn't stay in jobs long and has yet to stay put anywhere for more than four seasons.

It's not yet known whether he'd be a serious candidate for the Rams job. That didn't stop Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson from weighing in on the topic in the wake of Fisher's firing.

"People are talking about Jim Harbaugh," Dickerson said. "That would be a good fit. He develops quarterbacks. He had Alex Smith in San Francisco. He had an offensive line he had to rebuild. It's almost the same situation you have here."

Those close to Gruden have indicated he would listen to a Rams pitch, however, and that he might be interested in a return to coaching after seven years as color analyst for ESPN's Monday Night Football. He knows quarterbacks, turned around a dead-in-the-water Oakland Raiders franchise and won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay at the end of the 2002 season (by beating his former Raiders team).

It's worth noting that Gruden and Kevin Demoff, the Rams' top executive, worked together with the Buccaneers.

In their past two games, the Rams lost to the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, teams with hot-handed offensive coordinators in Josh McDaniels of the Patriots and Kyle Shanahan of the Falcons.

In 2009, McDaniels was hired at age 33 to replace Mike Shanahan — Kyle's father — as coach of the Denver Broncos. His teams went 8-8 and 3-9 before he was fired late in the 2010 season. He was widely viewed at the time as bright but immature. He was offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams in 2011 and has had that job for the better part of four years with the Patriots.

After the Rams lost at New England in Week 13, McDaniels was hanging around outside the visitors' locker room, chatting with his former colleagues.

That was an interesting scene, considering Fisher was already on thin ice.

Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell is believed to be interested in McDaniels, so the Rams' being on the hunt for a coach could impact how the Jaguars deal with coach Gus Bradley, who is 14-47 in nearly four seasons.

Kyle Shanahan oversees the NFL's No. 3 offense, one that averages 402.3 yards a game but garnered only 286 in Sunday's victory over the Rams.

In his news conference Monday, Demoff said the Rams' investment in the offense doesn't necessarily mean that the club will hire an offense-minded head coach to follow the defense-minded Fisher. The Rams are ranked 32nd on offense.

"You may find an unbelievable head coaching candidate who you meet with and believe is absolutely perfect for the Los Angeles Rams who has a defensive background," Demoff said. "I think what's most important is they have a plan to maximize the offense."

UCLA is coming off a 4-8 season, but Jim Mora had success as coach of the Falcons, guiding them to the NFC Championship Game in 2004.

He didn't get much of a chance to implement a long-term plan with the Seattle Seahawks, who replaced him after one 5-11 season when they got a chance to hire Pete Carroll.

Mora's a possible Rams candidate.

Norv Turner had some successes as a head coach but is widely regarded as an excellent offensive coordinator who helped develop some of the better quarterbacks in the game.

He plans to coach again after walking away from his job as offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings earlier this season.

Mike Martz was the architect of the "Greatest Show on Turf" offensive units that secured the only Super Bowl victory in Rams history.

He has been retired since 2011, his last season as offensive coordinator in Chicago. He told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year that he would consider a return to coaching in the right role.

"One of the good parts and the bad parts of this process in the NFL is there is no proven way to get it done," Demoff said. "You can hire first-time head coaches, you can hire college coaches, you can hire coaches who have been fired before. You can point to any examples of ones who have had great success, or ones who have struggled. What's most important is finding the right fit."

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