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Thread: Golden Mike
By Clark Judge
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
Mike Martz has 50 victories in 4½ years as coach of the Rams, three playoff appearances and one bow in the Super Bowl. Yet his critics are so down on the guy that they believe -- no, they urge -- that if Martz doesn't return to the playoffs this year, he should be dismissed.
Well, he won't be, and you can book it.
"As far as I'm concerned, there's zero chance of that happening," said Rams president John Shaw. "No chance at all. As far as I'm concerned, there's zero chance that his job is in jeopardy."
Shaw's remarks come in the wake of the Rams' second defeat of Seattle this year, a game that moved St. Louis into a tie for first place in the NFC West. Afterward, a relaxed Martz spoke of his admiration for his players and the organization, saying "this is a great place to work." But his superiors feel as strongly about their coach, and they should.
In the time Martz has been head coach the Rams missed the playoffs only when Kurt Warner -- a two-time league MVP -- missed most of the season with injury. And still he found a way to win seven games with a free-agent pickup: Marc Bulger, now the team's starting quarterback.
But that's more the rule than the exception with Martz. He has turned three free agents into legitimate starters, beginning with Trent Green, when Martz was a quarterbacks coach in Washington, Warner and now Bulger. Most teams spend draft picks -- and often first-round draft picks -- on players they hope can be franchise quarterbacks, but Martz finds them on the streets.
And the results are impressive. Over the past five years, the Rams have broken 17 NFL offensive records and tied six others. In addition, they have produced three consecutive league MVPs.
Sure, the Rams won a Super Bowl before Martz took over for Dick Vermeil, but it was Martz who guided that offense -- one that produced a franchise-record 526 points, the third-highest total in league history. And, yes, Martz lost to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI, a game in which the Rams were heavily favored, but 23 of the Patriots' past 24 opponents lost, too, and nobody's calling for their coaches to get canned.
Martz also can make odd game decisions -- with that divisional playoff loss to Carolina coming to mind -- but that doesn't exactly make him unique. Seattle coach Mike Holmgren last weekend didn't have Shaun Alexander, the league's leading rusher, in the lineup for a critical fourth-and-1, and nobody's on his case.
"Have I heard criticism? Of course, as has everybody," said Shaw. "But it's not something I really focus on. It's irrelevant. Mike has won 50 games in 4&189; years, which is remarkable. He will average over 10 wins a season over the last five years, and if you look at the Rams the five years prior to that, I think we're averaging more like (7½, including playoffs). So he increased our win production.
"He obviously took over a team that won the Super Bowl, and it was a good team. But in our league, with the exception of maybe New England, teams have a hard time of maintaining a certain level of success. And I do feel our team's been in transition the past couple of years. Yet, despite that, he's managed to have winning seasons, which is a credit to him."
The Rams rebounded last weekend from consecutive losses -- including one to Miami -- to return to the top of the NFC West with less than half the season left. The good news for Martz and the Rams is that four of their next five games are against teams with losing records. The bad news is that four of their next five games are on the road, where the Rams historically struggle.
"We've been inconsistent at times this year," said Shaw. "Despite the fact that (last Sunday's) game was significant, I have no feeling of turning the corner or anything like that. As a result of it I'd like to see how we compete and stay in the game over the next five weeks. I think I'll have a better sense of where the team is after the next five weeks."
Following this year, Martz has two years left on a contract that pays him $3.5 million a season in 2005 and 2006.
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