Is All Well Inside Rams Park Lockdown?
Is All Well Inside Rams Park Lockdown?
By Barry Waller
Though the Rams are in the midst of a two game collapse sandwiched around a bye, left at 4-4 midway through the 2004 campaign, there are more subtle reasons for concern about the team’s fortunes the rest of the way than 120 minutes of sickening play. Actually it’s probably less than that, since the games were close, and team competed hard for a while.
What worries those around Rams Park the most these days is the increased air of secrecy in Earth City, complete with new, never seen before rules for the media. Back in 2002, Mike Martz decided to close his practices the week leading up to the season, and for another four weeks after that. The secrecy created by the play worked really well….NOT; the Rams went 0-4, and the season was over before it started for the NFC Champs.
This year, like 2003, there was none of that pre-season paranoia about the media at Rams Park, and the practices were open, as were the lines of communication between the media and assistant coaches. The Rams had a big year, at least in the regular season, despite all the Glasnost going on at Rams Park. The situation did get strained with the Kurt Warner soap opera, and as usual, Rams players weren’t exactly media friendly much of the time during the week.
If not for a handful of “regulars” in the locker room, standup guys like Tyoka Jackson, Adam Archuleta, Marc Bulger, Kurt Warner, Adam Timmerman, Aeneas Williams, Pisa Tinoisamoa, Leonard Little. Orlando Pace, Isaac Bruce, and a couple others, “media day” would have consisted of people in the media interviewing one another.
This season, all was well in Ramsnation until recently, except for an early indication of things to come when Martz denied the media access to his assistants, who are a great source of knowledge about the game and their position guys. Lovie Smith was great in the media, and maybe that’s why he is now the Bears head coach. The way the loss of the Rams defensive coordinator has appeared to cripple the team, maybe Martz wants to make sure he doesn’t lose anyone else.
It’s doubtful he’ll lose his good pal Larry Marmie, who he stuck his neck way out to hire as Smith’s successor. In fact, it’s a good bet that Marmie, who’s defensive units in Arizona were among the league’s worst statistically, would not have gotten an NFL coordinator position in 2004 if not for Martz, who worked for Marmie at Arizona State.
At 61, Marmie isn’t exactly a guy a franchise would want to start building around, yet he got the job almost without any search for a better option in the off-season. Marmie would be coming in and taking over for a younger, very popular coach, and also had to inherit three defensive assistants who were Lovie’s guys.
Bill Kollar, Perry Fewell, and Gil Byrd were also three guys who never got a sniff to become the coordinator and just keep the same defense that the Rams personnel was acquired to play. Whether there were hard feelings about Marmie’s hiring is something only they know, and they aren’t talking. One thing is clear though; this bunch of defensive players is not playing for Marmie, and his scheme doesn’t seem to be very effective in any way.
Right now Martz knows his offense is good enough to win, even with some protection issues he has dealt with many times before. He is also painfully aware that the two old timers he brought in to coach special teams and defense are failing miserably at their jobs in terms of results, maybe enough as to hear about it from his bosses. He sure seems to be acting like a manager who just had his butt chewed by a VP this week.
Maybe that’s why the media rules at Rams Park just got even more restrictive, as if Tom Ridge or John Ashcroft just became head of security. Maybe the things Martz wants said to players during practice are not for public consumption. Maybe the reason media people must be at practice when it starts, and must stay till it finishes is to eliminate some distractions from the players.
Maybe the reason all photographers and cameramen must now leave practice after the team is done stretching is something one could understand, if there was any explanation given, which there wasn’t. Maybe the reason writers now can’t scribble something on a notepad during practice in shorthand to ask a player or the coach about is to assure the safety of the playbook.
Maybe the reason even local television reporters, let alone an internet guy, are having a great deal of difficulty getting a one on one with a certain player, is to keep the team focused on their jobs during a critical phase of the season. Maybe the reason Martz seemed irked at a larger than usual media group out at Rams Park is because he sees them as piling on when the team is down. (Maybe it’s because there is no hockey, we have no NBA, and baseball is over, Mike)
Maybe Martz stormed out of his Wednesday press conference after five minutes to motivate his team, after nothing more than the usual soft soap questions for Martz from a very respectful St. Louis media. (Just be glad this ain’t Philly, coach).
Then again, maybe all this “lock down” mentality at Rams Park is the sign of unrest. It may be unrest by defensive players who feel Marmie can’t lead them; unrest by offensive players who see a defense worse than in 2000, and a coach changing his personality in mid-season; unrest by Jay Zygmunt and John Shaw, who approved Marmie’s hiring to appease their head coach; or unrest within Martz himself, who knows darn well his pal will be taking the fall if things continue like they are defensively, from veteran players he feels are letting him down badly.
Would Martz decide to quit rather than fire Marmie if this team goes 8-8 or worse? That could be a hot question if things don’t turn around fast.
When a regime is in trouble, secrecy always increases, but it does little good in the end because revolution happens most often from the inside of a culture, not from outside influences. That’s as true in NFL teams as it is in the world of politics.
The Rams must win five or six of their remaining eight games, and one must be the one Sunday against Seattle in front of the home fans. It is as big a must win as Martz has had in his head coaching career. It is the fulcrum on which the fortunes of an organization may hinge.
Maybe Mike Martz is withdrawing away from everyone, and taking those he can with him, because he knows everything is riding on what he can get his team to produce this Sunday. It’s a shame that any game in a sport as unpredictable as football would ever get to that importance, and it’s probably a mistake to let it.
Mike Martz has only himself to blame for it being there, but he may be taking too much on himself to try to overcome the present situation in one week. He was the one who decided on Bulger over Warner, the one who hired Marmie and the other new assistants, the one who thought Grant Williams was good enough to replace Turley.
As of now, the Marmie hiring looks to be Martz’ biggest mistake ever, though Marmie is somewhat hindered by being forced wrongly and unnecessarily into silence about his own thoughts on what could be wrong. Unless this defense responds, and at least plays to the competitive level of the Rams offense, Marmie must be replaced, and that could be the beginning of the end for Martz if he doesn’t do it willingly and quickly.
There’s always hope that Marmie will pull the plug himself before the season is even over, to spare his former protégée the pain or firing him. And of course there is hope that the team will turn this thing around now, and the talent they drafted so high will play like it. If it weren’t for the negative vibes that are unmistakable right now at Rams Park, that last hope might be something easier to hold on to.