ST. LOUIS — When he was in middle school in Eufaula, Ala., Les Snead used to skip class to watch the NFL draft on TV. Compare his picks to the real ones, too.
"I'd get the bubblegum cards and I'd try to have my own draft, pick a team and figure out ways to do fantasy football before they had it," Snead said. "So maybe I should have copyrighted the idea."
Now, he's living the fantasy.
The St. Louis Rams hired the 41-year-old Snead as their general manager on Tuesday, bringing in another front-office veteran in their effort to escape the NFL cellar.
Chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said Snead, who had been director of player personnel with the Atlanta Falcons the past three years, was the first candidate the team called, even before they hired coach Jeff Fisher.
"From our first interview it was clear he was ready," Demoff said. "We're set up for the future, and for future success."
Demoff said it was a coincidence that the Rams tapped the Falcons for their second straight general manager. Snead replaces Billy Devaney, who had been assistant GM with Atlanta before coming to St. Louis.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for what the Falcons have accomplished the last four years," Demoff said. "There was absolutely no hesitation going back to a place we've hired from before. Our goal was to get it right."
Snead, who spent the past 13 years with the Falcons, said there was no awkwardness during the interview process because he and Devaney did not discuss the job. Devaney sent a congratulatory text message along with a photograph from a beach on the Gulf Coast.
"It was a meaningful text," Snead said. "I showed it to somebody who doesn't know Billy and they said 'I don't know that person but I really like him.'"
Snead loves the challenge ahead.
"This is a distinctive opportunity," Snead said. "You're going to hear me say a lot of times that everybody in this building's going to be passionate about winning. We're going to have a purpose, and then we're going to go thrive."
Fisher was hired in mid-January and was heavily involved in the search. He said the Falcons run their personnel department similar to what he was accustomed to, and that philosophies matched.
"It was a fit, it was a mesh," Fisher said. "I'm just really excited about moving forward, about the innovative ideas and where we're going to take this team."
The Rams are in the midst of an overhaul after winning just 15 games the past five seasons. They have the second overall pick in April's draft after going 2-14 last season and are keeping their options open.
Fisher replaced Steve Spagnuolo, who was fired along with Devaney after going 10-38 in three seasons. He's nearly finished hiring a staff that includes former NFL head coaches, Dave McGinnis as assistant head coach and Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator.
The Rams confirmed they'd hired secondary coach Chuck Cecil, a longtime assistant under Fisher in Tennessee.
Snead oversaw college and pro scouting efforts for the Falcons, and the team said he played a key role in evaluating not just talent but the salary value of all player acquisitions. Before he arrived in Atlanta, he worked in pro scouting for the Jaguars from 1995-97.
Snead is a former tight end for Auburn, earning a scholarship after joining the team as a walk-on, and he later was an assistant for the Tigers. He holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in education.
Fisher, who was hired after input from owner Stan Kroenke, contends there is a strong core to build around as the Rams try to improve. Fisher agreed to a five-year contract worth a reported $7 million per season, and insisted on a list of about two dozen items, including the makeup of the coaching staff and front office.
He and Snead have a lot of work to do.
The franchise has averaged three wins per season under Scott Linehan, interim coach Jim Haslett and Spagnuolo, a far cry from the "Greatest Show on Turf" days that included a trip to the Super Bowl in 2000.
St. Louis was considered a franchise on the rise after making a six-win improvement in 2010 and playing for the NFC West title in the finale. Instead, the Rams flopped in 2011, playing a brutal schedule and were hampered by injuries.
The Rams haven't had a winning season since 2003, and they had the NFL's worst offense last season.
Besides that No. 2 overall draft pick, the Rams do have a handful of Pro Bowl-caliber talents including quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Steven Jackson, defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Bradford was the top overall pick in 2010 and was the NFL offensive rookie of the year, although last year he missed six games with a high left ankle sprain and threw only six touchdown passes.
Hanging over the Rams are questions about the franchise's future in St. Louis.
The St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission unveiled a plan Feb. 1 that calls for $124 million in improvements to Edward Jones Dome in hopes of making sure the city doesn't lose another NFL team.
The Rams' lease with the commission requires the dome to be "first tier," or among the top 25 percent of all NFL stadiums in several categories. If it falls short, Kroenke can move the franchise after the 2014 season.Comment on this story
The Rams have until March 1 to accept or reject the commission offer. They can also make a counterproposal. Arbitration would begin June 15 if no agreement is reached, and the arbitration process could last through the end of the year.
Demoff noted that the team would have a stronger position if it could field a winner.
"We haven't done our job on the field to make St. Louis proud," Demoff said. "Obviously, the discussions would be a lot easier if we were 65-15 and not 15-65.
"So I view our responsibility to fix the football team and in time hopefully that will lead to easier answers on the stadium."