There is a lot of blame going around for the Rams’ awful start to 2008 and their awful 2007 season under Scott Linehan. Scott Linehan is obviously facing most of the blame, but so is GM and President of Football Operations, Jay Zygmunt. But, who is Jay Zygmunt anyway? He does not come out and give interviews to the press often and is certainly a very low profile GM. Most Rams fans want him fired, but know very little about him. Let’s see if we can find out how Zygmunt got to where he is today.
Jay Zygmunt was hired by owner Georgia Frontiere and his friend John Shaw in 1982 for the L.A. Rams. Jay was an accountant and a lawyer by trade and was hired to be the Rams general council. Zygmunt had gone to college at Notre Dame and gotten his law degree at Northwestern. He moved to LA and became an accountant, where he met John Shaw.
When Shaw moved to the Rams, he convinced Georgia to bring on Zygmunt. Shaw and Zygmunt moved up the organization together and soon Zygmunt was negotiating player contracts for the Rams. He began to negotiate more and more contracts for the Rams, until he was negotiating over 90 contracts a year. As the salary cap rose in prominence in the 90s and into the new millennium, so did Jay Zygmunt rise through the ranks of the Rams front office.
He became the Rams cap expert and official contract negotiator. He would interface with the player agents and negotiate contract extensions, free agent contracts and other matters. Zygmunt moved to St. Louis with the Rams in 1995 at Frontiere and John Shaw’s insistence. In the St. Louis Rams organization, he steadily moved up to the position of Executive Vice President. Zygmunt also became one of the NFL’s most respected cap managers and regarded as someone who had a handle on the economics of the NFL in the salary cap era.
Soon, Zygmunt was given even more responsibility within the organization. After the Rams won the Super Bowl in January 2000, Dick Vermeil suddenly retired which left the Rams in a lurch. They needed to restructure the organization and in the restructure Jay Zygmunt was named President of Football Operations. Also, as we all know, Mike Martz was named Head Coach and Charlie Armey was named General Manager. Martz still had the final call on all personnel decisions, but needed both Armey and Zygmunt’s approval.
But if Martz had final call on all decisions, why would have need Armey and Zygmunt’s approval? In either case, Armey was in charge of evaluating talent, but the Rams still did not have a full scouting department, instead relying on an outside scouting agency. At this point, the Rams were a three-headed checks and balances front office with Armey, Zygmunt and Martz.
After the restructuring, the front office arrangement worked well for a few years, but all three began to disagree. Zygmunt tried to exert more power over player additions through free agency and the draft, which did not sit well with Martz. Armey was supposed to be the scouting and personnel guru based on his experience. Armey and Zygmunt were a good team with Armey as the player evaluator and Zygmunt as the cap guru and contract negotiator. It is unclear when this relationship broke down, but it did and we all know how that ended up.
Martz was admitted to the hospital during the 2005 season, took a leave of absence and eventually fired after the season. While he was on “leave”, Martz took his feud with Zygmunt and Armey public and there was no going back to the Rams for Martz. Martz even famously called the Rams during the game to try to relay a play call to the offensive coordinator at the time, Steve Fairchild. Jay Zygmunt intercepted the call and hung up on Martz.
After Martz was fired, Zygmunt hired Scott Linehan to become the Rams new head coach in 2006. By the beginning of the 2007 season, Zygmunt had been promoted again to President of Football Operations/General Manger. Charlie Armey moved to Director of Pro Personnel and later retired. Billy Devaney was hired from Atlanta before the 2008 NFL draft as Armey’s replacement. Zygmunt was now the first and last say on all contracts and players.
He would get advice from his scouts and personnel department, but he has the final authority. Zygmunt went from cap manager in 1995-1999 to general manager in 2007. Zygmunt was renowned in 2005 during his public struggle with Mike Martz as a great cap guy, but someone who didn’t have too much idea about how to evaluate and sign football talent. And for some reason the Rams continued to promote Zygmunt into higher responsibility positions in the football organization and began to increase his say on player acquisitions.
Zygmunt was known in agent circles as having one of the top five tempers in the NFL. He is a fiery and passionate man and negotiator. He has also been known to put his foot down on drafting specific players to the chagrin of all the scouts and coaches. His final word does not just end with the draft as Zygmunt has surrounded himself and by extension the Rams front office with his friends and compatriots. One of Zygmunt’s closest confidants is Samir Suleiman, who succeeded Zygmunt as Director of Football Operations.
Samir famously (or infamously) called up Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch in response to a story and said, “Tell your source that I’m not a back-stabber, I’m a (expletive) throat slasher, and he’ll know the difference before it’s all said and done.” Now, it does not need to be said that this is not the way a harmonious front office should work. Some see this as the mentality Zygmunt has fostered in the Rams front office. Crossing or disagreeing with Zygmunt (and to a lesser extent Suleiman) could not be a good plan in the Rams front office. Slowly, more people in the front office sided with Zygmunt and the people who did not were cut off or removed.
John Shaw as president of the Rams is the highest authority in the front office, but his activity in the front office has been waning as of late. As his friend’s activity has been decreasing, Zygmunt’s power has been increasing. With Shaw in semi-retirement by all accounts and the Rams ownership situation in flux, the whole front office is in upheaval. Zygmunt used that upheaval to his benefit and rose to the position of General Manager.
Jay Zygmunt has put his stamp on the Rams and by all accounts that stamp is not a good one. Since 2000, the Rams have not drafted well or signed top-flight free agents. Not all of this blame can be placed on Zygmunt; some goes to Mike Martz (Trung Candidate). But, with the state of the Rams there is plenty of blame to go around. But, what we do know is that the Rams have a man who is never been known for being a good player evaluator or eye for talent as their GM. Ideally, the Rams would be able to hire a new GM and Zygmunt would return to his player contracts role and being a salary cap guru. Would Zygmunt give up the General Manager position voluntarily?
Rams fans hope that he would, but in the past he has tried to exert more power over personnel decisions – even when not the GM – so he may not take kindly to the decrease in responsibilities. This is not to be mistaken; Zygmunt is one of the smartest executives in the NFL and one of the best so-called “cap guys”. But is he cut out to be a General Manager?
This is for certain; Zygmunt’s lacks the qualifications to be a General Manager in the NFL. That would not matter as much if he was able to turn the St. Louis Rams into a productive, competitive squad year in and year out in his time as General Manager. But he has not. The Rams squad is old, one of the oldest in the league. The Rams are less talented than most of the other teams in the NFL. Ten of the players the Rams drafted in 2006 and 2007 are not on any 53 man roster in the NFL. Ten of the players that should be the young talent base for the Rams are not even on a roster!
This is a huge mistake in talent acquisition that has eroded the Rams talent base that forces the Rams to fill in their roster with other team’s roster cuts. Cut players are rarely young and talented, but usually on the downside of their careers. This results in the higher age of the Rams players and the lack of depth and talent at all positions. Billy Devaney was hired to oversee the draft and the Rams have made improvements in the 2008 draft. However, the Rams need a General Manager to turn around their squad and bring the Rams back to their glory days. Jay Zygmunt has shown in his years in charge that he is not the man to draft and sign the best talent in the NFL to turn around the Rams sinking fortunes.
Warning signs By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports – October 26, 2005
RAMS’ ZYGMUNT IS QUIETLY TENACIOUS EXECUTIVE AVOIDS ATTENTION by Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post Dispatch – January 12, 2000
Rams consider “reshuffling” by Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post Dispatch – February 22, 2005
VERMEIL ADMIRES ZYGMUNT’S DEDICATION by Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post Dispatch – October 5, 1999