ST. LOUIS - Next year will be Chris Long's fifth season with the St. Louis Rams. The defensive end will be playing for his fourth coach in a seemingly endless cycle of futility.
Having survived Scott Linehan, Jim Haslett and Steve Spagnuolo, who knows what's next? And this time, the Rams also are shopping for a general manager.
"It's building, it's rebuilding. It's building, it's rebuilding," Long said. "We take some hits and we have to get back up and dust ourselves off. We'll certainly have to dust ourselves off after this season."
Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney were fired Monday, one day after the Rams wrapped up a 2-14 season tied for the NFL's worst. Kevin Demoff, vice-president and chief operating officer, said owner Stan Kroenke made the decision Sunday night.
Demoff said a report that former Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher had already been scheduled for the first interview was "100 per cent false." But he added that Fisher was a "potentially attractive candidate."
Demoff's father, Marvin Demoff, is Fisher's agent.
"I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that because I happen to know someone that knows Jeff well, that I know Jeff well, that Jeff's going to be our head coach," Kevin Demoff said. "I know that makes for great conjecture, great Internet fodder and stokes the rumour mill but it's completely unfounded,"
Devaney said in a statement Monday night that while the record was disappointing, "I wouldn't trade that time for anything." He thanked Kroenke and the previous owners, Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, for hiring him and also thanked fans for their support.
"To all in St. Louis, I'll meet you further on up the road," Devaney said. "Cheers!"
Demoff expects the search for both positions to be concluded in the next few weeks and said it didn't necessarily matter which position was filed first. Former coach Dick Vermeil and Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk will be consultants, and Demoff said Kroenke "will be heavily involved."
Offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels is the only assistant coach under contract through next season.
"I'm sure Josh will have opportunities around the NFL to possibly be a co-ordinator or better throughout this process," Demoff said. "It's going to be fluid, but we'll figure out what's best for both parties."
The Rams made a six-win improvement last season and played for the NFC West title in the finale, but were just 10-38 overall in three seasons with Spagnuolo and Devaney calling the shots. Devaney joined the front office in 2008, but the Rams were 12-52 in his four years as GM.
"It's amazing how easily it all could have gone the other way and this would be a totally different meeting at the end of the year," Long said. "And, maybe we are still playing. It's a fine line between being good and bad in the NFL, and we've learned that over the past couple of years here."
Kroenke fired his coach and GM with one year remaining on their contracts, and with fan interest dwindling. The Edward Jones Dome was little more than half-full later in the year and the team had to purchase tickets to meet requirements for a sellout in the finale.
"No one individual is to blame for this disappointing season and we all must hold ourselves accountable," Kroenke said in a statement. "However, we believe it's in the best interest of the St. Louis Rams to make these changes as we continue our quest to build a team that consistently competes for playoffs and championships."
Players said Spagnuolo took the high road in a meeting Monday morning.
"Coach addressed the team this morning to let us know that he was terminated and he was sorry, especially for the guys that have been here the entire three years he was coach, that he didn't get the job done," running back Steven Jackson said. "He took full responsibility."
Next April, the Rams will have the second pick of the draft, the fourth time in five seasons with the No. 1 or 2 selection. The premium picks, including Long and quarterback Sam Bradford, have not been enough to make up the frequent miscues and a puny offence run by McDaniels.
Names of potential replacements for Spagnuolo began to surface weeks ago as the season unravelled, with Fisher and Jon Gruden linked as naturals. Gruden is seen as a fit because he worked with Demoff in Oakland.
Spagnuolo was considered a defensive whiz after an impressive performance by the Giants in a Super Bowl upset of the unbeaten Patriots in 2008, and got a four-year contract for his first head coaching job. The Rams were 1-15 in 2009 while undertaking a massive overhaul, then made a six-victory improvement in 2010, and entered this season viewed as NFC West contenders.
Instead, they were swamped by a difficult schedule, losing their first six in a row, and also by injuries at quarterback, the secondary and the offensive line.
Cornerback Ron Bartell, who sustained a season-ending neck injury in the opener, re-signed as a free agent with the Rams because of his respect for Spagnuolo.
"I love coach Spags to death but at the end of the day when you don't get wins this is what happens," Bartell said.
Spagnuolo was criticized for devoting too much time to the cosmetics of the job. He pushed for a US$1 million renovation of the stadium locker room the team uses 10 times a year, and surrounded himself with a new trainer, public relations head, building operations manager and equipment manager.
Yet the players said they believe the foundation is here for a good team.
Long, among the league leaders with 13 sacks, said Sunday that the 49ers' quick turnaround can serve as inspiration. San Francisco made a seven-victory jump and is the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC after going 13-3, including a season-ending win in St. Louis.
"You're never as far away as you think in this league," Long said. "It's super competitive. They came out of nowhere and now they're in the playoffs and have a shot."
Devaney loaded up with free agents last summer in an effort to augment a team that was in the division race to the end but had too many misses.
The offence was the NFL's worst, with or without Bradford. The defence threatened the franchise record for yards allowed. A pair of special teams failures were devastating, a blocked field goal on the potential game-winner and a 99-yard punt return, in an overtime loss at Arizona.
The Rams put everything together once for a 31-21 upset over the 13-win Saints, even with backup A.J. Feeley calling the signals. Jackson became the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in seven straight seasons despite the personnel upheaval and Long and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis also had good years.
But the team's depth was tested immediately when leading wide receiver Danny Amendola and Bartell were lost for the year and Jackson injured his quadriceps on his first carry in a season-opening loss to the Eagles
"We've got a lot of guys that unfortunately were banged up," Laurinaitis said. "I think a full off-season together will help. I don't think 2-14 reflects this team if everyone is healthy. We'll see."