ST. LOUIS – It’s a sweltering day at St. Louis Rams training camp, and among a throng of fans leaning on a gate this one stands out: Todd Parmalee, wearing a red shirt with the distinct G logo. A Georgia fan who lives in St. Louis.
So he is approached and asked: When he heard his beloved Bulldogs had hired the offensive coordinator of the local team, the one that had struggled mightily to score the past few years, he couldn’t have been happy, right?
“Actually, I liked it,” Parmalee said. “I liked it because of the pro style. I know he doesn’t have a lot of experience in college and in recruiting, but just learn from (Jeremy) Pruitt and he’ll be fine.”
But wait, it’s pointed out, weren’t plenty of Rams fans happy to see Brian Schottenheimer abscond to Georgia? Yes, Parmalee grants, he’s probably in the minority, but …
“If you lose your quarterback two years in a row, your offensive line was decimated, that’s out of control of the offensive coordinator,” Parmalee said.
Maybe that’s the minority opinion among Rams fans, but through numerous interviews on site of Schottenheimer’s former stomping grounds, this was clear: He still very well thought of, and not held to blame for a Rams offense that ranked in the bottom 10 each of his three seasons in St. Louis.
There was Rams general manager Les Snead, sounding like one of the biggest fans of Schottenheimer, who begins preseason camp at Georgia on Tuesday afternoon.
“You’re getting a smart guy who loves to teach,” Snead said. “Tell your Georgia fans that they should be happy.”
There was quarterback Austin Davis, who started nine games for the Rams last year.
“He’s one of the most knowledgeable football coaches I’ve ever been exposed to,” said Davis, who was a rookie out of Southern Miss when he encountered Schottenheimer two years ago. “His understanding of all facets of the game, protection, pass game, run game, was really good for me because I got to learn everything that he knew. He brings a lot of experience. He’s an NFL caliber coach going to the college ranks.”
And there was Jared Cook, the All-Pro tight end for the Rams, who played at South Carolina, one of Georgia’s rivals.
“He’s a good, quality play-caller, in my opinion,” Cook said. “He’s not gonna take too many risks. He’s gonna call it simple, it’s up to you to go out there and make the play happen. … I think he’ll do a good job at UGA.”
There are two explanations for all this niceness:
Schottenheimer left a lot of goodwill behind, and people don’t want to bad-mouth him. And indeed, the consensus around the complex was that the son of longtime NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer is a pretty good guy.
“He’s a great dude,” Snead said.
The other explanation? Everyone is being sincere in saying that Schottenheimer did the best he could under the circumstances, most notably not having starting quarterback Sam Bradford for the final 25 games of his Rams tenure. Much like in his six years running the New York Jets’ offense he had ups and downs, but managed to reach the AFC championship twice with Mark Sanchez at quarterback.
Here are the numbers for Schottenheimer’s three seasons in St. Louis:
- 2014: 28th in total offense, 23rd in passing, 20th in rushing.
- 2013: 30th in total offense, 27th in passing, 19th in rushing.
- 2012: 23rd in total offense, 18th in passing, 19th in rushing.
But Snead, a new-breed G.M. who believes in analytics, scoffs at those traditional numbers. He has others, like this one: NFL teams who lose their starting quarterback only win 26 percent of their games.
“We won 40 percent,” Snead said. “We’re not writing home, saying we’re successful. (But) we did it with a young team. Schotty did it with the youngest team in the NFL three years in a row.”
And even with those backups, Snead points out, there were big victories: Davis led a comeback to avoid a humiliating defeat to Tampa Bay, Kellen Clemons beat Indianapolis and New Orleans. Shaun Hill beat Denver.
There are other mitigating factors: St. Louis offered suffered injury hits to its offensive line. And while it had fast tailbacks the past two years, there was a reason it used the 10th overall pick in April to draft Georgia’s Todd Gurley.
“It’s hard to win when you don’t have who you thought was gonna be behind center, who you’ve been practicing all spring with, who you have invested the majority of your time in,” Cook said. “That’s hard. And then you might have guys that might not be as gifted as the starting quarterback in certain areas, but are gifted in other areas. So it’s tough.
“I’ve told people that if you want to have a good offense in this league you have to have a good quarterback. A good quarterback is central to your success, and when you don’t have your starter it’s tough, it makes it very hard on you. Besides that I think he did a great job with what he was given, and he still made the best out of it with us.”
It also bears mention that Schottenheimer was serving under head coach Jeff Fisher, who favors a conservative, ball-control philosophy. Sure enough, the Rams didn’t turn it over much the past three years.
Yes, there are still gripes from the fan base, which can be easily accessed on message boards and social media. But Fisher had retained Schottenheimer, and when he left Fisher promoted from within.
“You know what, he did a dang good job, and we had some quality wins, and kind of built a foundation here,” Snead said, adding one more message for Georgia fans. “I wouldn’t be nervous.”