General Manager Search Underway

Posted Jan 9, 2012

Tennessee Vice President of Player Personnel Ruston Webster is a potential candidate for the Rams' GM job.

While the Rams’ coaching search seems to be gaining steam by the hour, they have taken a bit slower tact with the hunt for a new general manager.

The Rams brought in their first candidate for that job on Monday after spending the end of last week and the weekend visiting with a pair of coaching candidates. Philadelphia’s Ryan Grigson, the Eagles’ Director of Player Personnel, visited St. Louis on Monday afternoon; the first of what figures to be a relatively long procession of candidates the team hopes to meet with in the coming days.

Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ Chief Operating Officer/Vice President of Player Personnel, said the profile for a potential general manager is pretty cut and dry.

“We are looking for people who can have strong opinions, who understand both pro and college scouting and who can help build the department and work well with the head coach,” Demoff said. “I know that sounds like everything a GM does but it’s a key piece of what we are going to be doing and so much of the GM’s work is a relationship with the coaching staff and trying to understand how those two intersect…So as we look for a GM candidate, we want someone who really understands how you acquire players in the NFL, how you scout them and who also understands the draft.”

The need to hire a head coach is more pressing in the interim as a new head coach would need to be able to make hires for his staff more quickly than a general manager. League rules dictate that personnel candidates can’t move teams until after the draft so it’s not likely the Rams’ new general manager would even be in place until April.

“The GM, you can’t steal from other staffs for a GM until after the draft so you can’t hire anyone,” Demoff said. “So the GM one, to me can linger a little bit longer.”

That hasn’t stopped the Rams from forming a profile on a dozen or so potential candidates and beginning the process of whittling them down.

Grigson got his start in scouting in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1998 and actually broke into the NFL in 1999 as a national scout with the Rams. He spent time with the team as an area scout for a few more years before moving to Philadelphia in 2004.

Since, Grigson has moved up the ladder incrementally, first as college scouting director and then in his current role as player personnel director about a year ago.

Among the other candidates that figure to be in play for the Rams in the coming days are Tennessee’s Ruston Webster (Vice President of Player Personnel) and Lake Dawson (Vice President of Operations), Atlanta’s Director of Player Personnel Les Snead, Arizona Director of Player Personnel Steve Keim and Indianapolis Director of Player Personnel Tom Telesco, among others.

“Last week we sent out close to a dozen permission slips for GMs because we had identified those candidates and we knew who they were,” Demoff said. “We know the personnel world a little bit more. We can make calls on them, we see them at the Senior Bowl, we see them at the Combine, we see them at different league meetings. You know most of these guys. And on the search committee when we talk about these guys, we have more information and background on their personalities on how we interact with them versus coaches who have a different role. So for when we pick up the phone and start to make calls on GM’s, we kind of know the people in our heads before we start to talk to them.”

Another candidate who will remain prominently in the mix is already on the premises at the Russell Training Center in Mike Williams, the current Vice President of Player Personnel.

Williams has already assumed the duties of running the personnel department in the interim and will almost certainly have to handle the process through April’s NFL Draft. The quiet but savvy Williams will get his chance to state his case, according to Demoff.

“Mike has impressed me since the day he walked into the building,” Demoff said. “Obviously, Billy (Devaney) saw something really great in him and I think everybody who works with him would agree he has got a great eye for talent, he’s tremendously patient, I think his staff likes working for him and I think he’s a really solid candidate and just because we haven’t had a winning record, people seem to assume that our personnel department isn’t strong. I have tremendous confidence in Mike and we all do, to run the personnel department in the interim and he certainly will get a long look for the job.”

The conversations that take place with the general manager candidates figure to be a bit more drawn out than the ones with possible coaches. From the outside looking in, it may seem that it’d be more difficult to find general manager candidates but those guys tend to be more widely known on a personal level than coaching candidates.

Whereas a coaching interview can cover an array of topics ranging from travel preferences to X’s and O’s, general managers have to focus more on wide sweeping philosophies.

“We’ll visit with as many GM candidates as we feel we need to get to get a complete profile to then start to get to a finalist list,” Demoff said. “Obviously, the GM conversations are a little bit different because when you are talking about building a staff, it’s smaller. We have some really good scouts in place who we know are going to stay and would like to stay. So that makes it a little bit easier. Also it’s more philosophical. With coaches you are going to ask a lot more nuts and bolts. The GM conversation is much more philosophy and vision.”

Because of the more pressing need to get a coaching staff in place, it seems likely the Rams will hire a coach before a general manager. The natural assumption is that whoever is in place first would have a lot of input into who his hired for the other job. That’s why someone like Dawson would seem to be a logical candidate should the Rams land Jeff Fisher as coach.

Make no mistake, though, the ultimate choice will come down to owner Stan Kroenke.

“Whoever gets hired first is going to have input into the other selection,” Demoff said. “That’s just natural, that’s going to happen. Even if you hire an inexperienced coach or inexperienced GM, whoever you bring to work first is going to have a say because they are going to meet the other people. They are not going to choose someone who they don’t want to be with. That would be a really bad way to start off the most important relationship in the building. So whichever way we go first, they are going to have significant input into the candidate list but ultimately Mr. Kroenke is going to have final say on who we bring in.”

The vetting process for finding qualified coaches and general managers is one thing, but as Demoff points out, there is also an element of finding two guys who are compatible enough to forge a strong working relationship. 

“You have to try to make sure you know the players on each side and their personalities and whoever you hire first is someone who doesn’t alienate or turn away people from the other positions,” Demoff said. “Quite the opposite, people want to be excited ‘Oh my God, they hired so and so and I really want to work with that guy.’ One of the things we heard about our job and a phrase that got used with us by a candidate in the last week was “goldmine, St. Louis is a goldmine.” We want people who view our opportunity that way.”