Monday, October 20, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

In the moments after a thoroughly dominant destruction of the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Rams head coach Jim Haslett was avoiding taking credit for his team’s sudden turnaround like Steven Jackson avoided Cowboys defenders all day.

The 34-14 victory against Dallas was the second in a row for the Rams and the team improved to 2-0 under Haslett’s guidance. But Haslett is doing his best to deflect the praise.

“You can write all you want about the this or that of the head coach but it has nothing to do with the head coach,” Haslett said. “It has to do with those players in that room.”

With all due respect to the 53 players on the Rams roster who have undoubtedly done their point in the team’s pointed turnaround, another way to view Haslett’s deflecting praise is as permission to commend him on the job he’s done in such a short time.

For the past two weeks, the Rams have without question played with more confidence.

The defenders have flown to the ball, created turnovers and harassed quarterbacks. The offensive players have improved every week and had a breakout day against Dallas. The special teamers have been solid all the way around and the kicking game is perhaps the best in the league.

While it’s up to those players to perform, there’s nobody in the locker room who is denying that the team’s attitude has changed dramatically and there’s a direct correlation to the new man running the show.

So what, exactly, is it that Haslett has been able to instill in his team in two short weeks that has so drastically changed the culture at Russell Training Center?

A straw poll of his players reveals different answers with one common theme.

“I think one word: attitude,” guard Richie Incognito said. “We are playing with attitude. We are playing with a winning attitude.”

There are myriad ways Haslett has helped instill that attitude in the team, not the least of which comes from his way of addressing the team.

Before Sunday’s game, Haslett delivered a short but passionate speech to his team. The exact content of that speech is unavailable but it’s safe to say Haslett had some choice words about the opponent and the amount of saturation coverage the Cowboys get.

“I played in the league and I’ve coached in the league long enough that I kind of get a feel for guys and what they’re thinking and what they’re going through and I’ve been in there on that side of the ball, and all I said to them yesterday was it’s not who we’re playing, it’s still a game,” Haslett said. “Go out there and have fun, don’t worry about the team you’re playing, don’t read about all the hype and all the bull that you read about this team, ‘America’s Team’, and all that just go out and play and play hard, good things will happen to us, without all the other stuff mixed in.”

It wasn’t the most eloquent speech but it hit just the right note with the players in the locker room.

“I think (it’s) a little nastiness,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “We are all aware of how he was as a player and now as a coach. He’s pretty straight forward. Right before the game he talked to us and it was pretty short and sweet but it was good. We get the point. He didn’t beat around the bush.”

Haslett has made a habit of regularly addressing the team and it’s the way he goes about doing it that helps get those players to buy what he’s selling.

Haslett says he makes notes before he addresses the team but the respect he commands is his ultimate trump card.

From the time Haslett first addressed the team when he was named the head coach, that has been clear.

“After the bye, I think guys really looked at each other and said we could either of two ways: we could just take it for the rest of the season which makes for a long year or we could come together and play for the pride of ourselves and the team,” running back Steven Jackson said. “The city and everyone depends on us a lot. Coach Haslett gave a speech about ‘What do you have to lose?’ I think a lot of guys that embraced that.”

Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi is Haslett’s closest confidant and knows Haslett better than anyone in the building.

While Venturi was quick to express regret about the circumstances surrounding the firing of coach Scott Linehan, he did point out that Haslett had a winning record for most of his time in New Orleans aside from his final, Hurricane Katrina devastated year.

Venturi let the players know exactly what they were getting into.

“The one thing I did tell the team when they made the move is that they are very fortunate,” Venturi said. “You have here, a proven head coach to take this team over, not a guy to mop it up.”

It remains to be seen how long the ball will keep rolling and Haslett is reminding anyone who will listen that his team isn’t likely to win every game.

That falls in line with his repeated message of dealing with adversity. While Haslett hopes to win all of those games, he does wonder how the team will react to a loss under his watch.

“I think we are just playing with a different attitude,” safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said. “We have a different approach each and every week. I think the fact that coach Haslett is speaking to us and trying to impart on us confidence and belief in ourselves and fighting through adversity. I think that’s really changed our mindset and approach the way we attack in practices and attack these games.”

Given another chance to claim at least a sliver of credit for the quick turnaround, Haslett again deflected that opportunity on Monday afternoon.

But he did acknowledge that whatever it is he’s putting out there seems to be working. At least for the time being.

“I do think the guys have kind of bought into what we’re trying to do and they feel good about themselves and they’re taking ownership in their team and you have to like that,” Haslett said.