As a seer, Snyder showed genius. Reeves fired him that night. The new coach was Clark Shaughnessy, who installed a complicated offense, won a divisional championship in 1949———and got fired. At first press and public were outraged by the dismissal of a man who had seemed kind and fatherly. But then Shaughnessy was overheard saying of his successor, Jumbo Joe Stydahar, "I could beat Stydahar with a high school team."
The remark got into the newspapers in type no larger than that on the ordinary billboard, and public opinion reversed itself. Stydahar won divisional championships in 1950 (the year the All-America Conference was absorbed by the NFL) and 1951, when the Rams set 22 league records. However, by the beginning of the 1952 season Stydahar became suspicious that his players were going Hollywood—which is to say they were less than dedicated to football. Losing three straight exhibition games convinced him the players were crawling out the windows after curfew. While in Little Rock for a preseason game he fined a number of them but suspected they were not cured. Sneaking down the hall of their hotel, he suddenly burst into a room and shone his flashlight on an empty bed. "Now I've got one!" Stydahar shouted.
It was his own bed. Stydahar did not think that called for a great amount of hilarity and, after the Rams lost their opener by 30 points in Cleveland, he quit. Under his former chief assistant, Hamp Pool, the Rams won their last eight games that year to tie Detroit but lost the playoff. Keeping busy, though, the Rams traded 11 players to the old Dallas Texans for Linebacker Les Richter, who promptly went into the Army for two years.
In 1953 the Rams finished 8-3-1 for third place, but the three losses were by a total of eight points and they beat the world champion Lions twice. The next season brought The Great Player Revolt, an occurrence Reeves says was primarily a concoction by the newspapers. It was more than that. Although they were due for two more good seasons before they collapsed, the Rams were deeply in trouble as a result of what had seemed a sound idea in 1947—the acceptance by Reeves of Levy, Pauley and Seley as partners. The Rams were prospering. Pauley and Seley decided they, as businessmen, should be operating the club and convinced Levy he should help them.
It is axiomatic in pro football that an organization is no stronger than the command that comes from its coach and general manager. When the Rams' owners began their open squabble, the players sensed that Pool and Tex Schramm, who had the duties, if not the title, of general manager, lacked authority. A team will never take responsibility for its own failure. Whenever the Rams lost a game, the players told any owner or sportswriter who would listen that it was Pool's fault. How much of it was Pool's fault is debatable, but failure bred failure and discontent bred discontent. Out went Pool. In came the sure decline of the Rams, but there was such a load of talent on the roster that it was 1959 before it was obvious that the Rams had lost their edge.
In 1955 Sid Gillman took over as coach and won the division championship again despite a decaying situation. Levy had notified Reeves by letter that he was voting the Pauley ticket. Every decision became a dispute. Schramm had to play politics and try to prevent chaos. According to the terms of the partnership, if an ultimate disagreement was reached the partnership had to be dissolved and the team sold to the highest bidder. None of the partners wanted that. In 1956 they decided Bert Bell, the NFL commissioner, would enter to arbitrate the decisions. That was too much for Schramm to swallow, and he resigned after the season.
The feud of the owners was the major cause of the disintegration of the Rams, but not the only one. The scouting system had provided so many good players that the Rams began swapping them off by the truckload for draft choices, which in turn provided more good players. Riches appeared unlimited. But a fundamental and fatal error was being made. The Rams were not getting a chance to settle down with maturing veterans who could work together with consistency. Last year's prize rookie was replaced by this year's, who would be replaced by next year's, so that there was hardly any point in saying hello in the locker room. While the Giants, for example, were holding on to veterans and winning, the Rams, with better players, were losing.
Pete Rozelle, who had been the Rams' publicity man, took Schramm's job. Rozelle is a good politician and a wizard at the tactic of talking all around a problem until it resolves itself. He got plenty of practice in Los Angeles. But Rozelle was not as devoted to scouting as Schramm had been and, under the pressures of his new position, allowed the scouting system to slide a bit. In scouting, a small slide is a suicide leap.
Gillman and Quarterback Van Brocklin did not have the same notion as to which of them was the coach and Gillman got Van Brocklin traded to Philadelphia, where he won an NFL championship under the loose rein of Buck Shaw in 1960. Bill Wade became the Ram quarterback in 1958 and the team soared to a tie for second. During the off season Rozelle worked out a trade with the Cardinals, herding off nine players for Running Back Ollie Matson. The trade got much of the blame for the subsequent flop of the Rams, but that was like blaming polio on a headache. The Rams gave up only two quality players, Frank Fuller and Ken Panfil. It is a fact, though, that since the 8-4 season of 1958, the Rams have not had a winning year. In the past seven seasons they have won 25, lost 65 and tied four.
Rozelle became NFL commissioner in 1960 and turned over his Los Angeles office to Elroy Hirsch. Bob Waterfield stepped in as coach, bringing back Hamp Pool as assistant. Waterfield was an enigma. "We couldn't figure out if that mask he wore was to hide a brilliant mind or if the mask was all there was," says a Los Angeles columnist. Waterfield twice finished sixth in the West, and in 1962 he departed in favor of Harland Svare, who rode down with the Rams to a 1-12-1 record and seventh place. The decline was complete. The Rams had hit bottom.