Energy, spirit help Linehan score a victory
By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The morning began with Scott Linehan walking into the main auditorium at Rams Park to address the team's noncoaching, nonplaying employees. On his first day on the job, Linehan wanted to reach out to everyone who works for the Rams.
"Everyone in this room, at some point this year, will be the most important person in this organization," Linehan told the staffers. He mentioned a variety of jobs, from the person who fixes the coaches' headsets on Sunday to the crew that keeps the building tidy.
Understand that no one gathered in that room will ever run for a first down, make a block, throw a deep pass, cause a fumble, make a spectacular catch, leap for an interception or kick a field goal.
That's OK with Linehan.
Coach wants everyone on his squad.
Linehan told the staffers they were vital to the overall performance of the franchise. He told them he needed their support. He vowed to learn each of their names. At one point, he talked about how happy he was to get this opportunity, and was briefly overcome by emotion. And Linehan got choked up later, when he spoke of fulfilling the dream of becoming an NFL head coach.
And as the staffers filed out of the auditorium, Linehan offered a greeting and a handshake.
Dick Vermeil's kind of guy, this Linehan.
Friday, the Rams' new head coach breezed into Rams Park, as fresh and brisk as a sunny winter morning. We do not know how many games Linehan will win, and we do not know whether he can make a successful transition from coordinator to head coach, and we do not know whether his radiant optimism will fade. This moment, for this situation, Linehan's enthusiasm and genuine personality were exactly what the Rams needed.
It has been a sad, depressing 12 months at Rams Park. The 2004 Rams were blown away in a playoff loss in Atlanta last January. The relationship between head coach Mike Martz and team management splintered and collapsed. Martz got sick and had to be hospitalized with a bacterial infection of a heart valve. And even then, the bickering did not cease. The Rams were 2-3 when Martz departed, and injuries ravaged the roster. The Rams couldn't cope, fell apart and finished 6-10.
And worst of all, Jack Snow died Jan. 9.
"It's been a tough time, just brutal," team president John Shaw said. "We've all felt battered in some way."
Linehan apparently is a quick study with sharp instincts. He was fully aware of the recent history and knew he had to change the vibe. From his first hour on the job, Linehan stressed a theme of unity and togetherness. He obviously wanted to send this instant message: The infighting, the politicking, is over.
"The one thing I want to make sure is really established right away is that this is going to be a family environment here at the Rams," Linehan said early in his first news conference. "We will do things cohesively as a group, as a unit and make decisions as a team from day one. That's how things get done. That's how things get done properly."
As he searched for a new coach, Shaw coveted a spirit of unanimity. The organization needed healing. And this isn't intended as a cheap shot against Martz; there was plenty of blame to go around for the fraying of the Rams' coach-management partnership. But that's the past. What matters now is the future. And Linehan's indefatigable spirit should help eliminate the friction, the fissures.
"I sensed that Scott had a very interesting mix of positive energy and toughness," Shaw said. "He's confident, but there's also real humility there. We wanted someone who could be a uniter, not a divider. And everything we found out about Scott suggested he would be a uniter."
Well, Linehan certainly is trying to close the great divide.
Asked about his plan for the Rams, Linehan didn't hesitate to return to his theme of the day.
"We're going to start by unifying as a team, and that's in all areas," he said. "What I think that we have to understand is that we're going to do things together, we're going to make decisions together and we will come to the right decision. We're not always going to agree, but we're not going to be disagreeable about it."
Though Linehan will have to motivate his players and maintain the loyalty of his assistants, he passed the first test. Rams employees quickly warmed to Linehan. The word we kept hearing to describe him was "genuine." And that leads to trust. There have been too many pockets of isolation within these walls at Rams Park. Too many folks fretting over their piece of turf, and their power. If the new coach has anything to do with that, the paranoia will be cleaned out.
"One thing is ... words that I live by that I try to teach, not only my young boys, but the players that I coach is number one, be authentic," Linehan said. "I'm going to be who I am ... I think it's very important to ... be yourself.
"The next thing is, you're going to have a progressive attitude here. Day in and day out, we will work extensively to get better at all areas of the organization. ... With that in mind, we have to be effective leaders. It starts with me and the other leaders in this organization, but everybody in this room has the ability to affect somebody in a positive way, and to be a leader, that's what you do."
No football games were won Friday, but Linehan won the building. He gained the support of those who have been erecting personal fortresses inside Rams Park, forced into anxious retreat by the constant battles and afraid to raise their heads and their hopes.
When this bright-eyed, bustling rookie head coach walked into the large auditorium Friday morning, he saw an organization that clearly needed a morale boost. Coach Linehan was instant offense.