Good ole Joe has really been around the block a time or two... http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/htm...71_kell10xhtml
Rams coach Joe Vitt embodies the term "football coach"
By Steve Kelley
Seattle Times staff columnist
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TOM HAUCK / GETTY IMAGES
Joe Vitt has been a strength coach, linebackers coach, secondary coach and assistant head coach during his long NFL career. Now he's a head coach for the first time, albeit on an interim basis, leading the St. Louis Rams.
PETER LIDDELL / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 1982
Joe Vitt, right, spent 10 seasons with the Seahawks as strength coach and defensive backs coach. His NFL coaching career began in 1979, when he was the strength coach for the Baltimore Colts.
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KIRKLAND — Assistant coach Joe Vitt was relatively new to the job and just beginning to establish his authority. Kenny Easley was the chiseled Pro Bowl safety who oozed confidence and get-out-of-my-face certainty.
One day at the Seahawks' old training facility at Carillon Point, Easley and Vitt got into an argument over Easley's workout routine. These were two tough-minded football guys who weren't about to back down from each other. The argument grew in volume and venom.
They went chin-to-chin, like a manager arguing with an umpire. Saliva speckled both faces. Finally Vitt suggested they take the argument outside.
One punch later, Vitt was on the ground.
"One thing you know about Joe Vitt, he's going to get ticked off," said Dave Wyman, a Seahawks linebacker from 1987 to 1992. "He's going to blow up, but then afterward you're going to be his friend. It was part of the reliability of his character you could count on."
Players who were there that day more than 20 years ago tell this story about the Vitt-Easley fight with the greatest of affection for Vitt. They tell it as an explanation of the strength of his character, not as an example of the shortness of his fuse.
A couple of hours after his short scuffle with Easley, players had drawn a chalk outline of Vitt's body at the spot where he was felled. Everybody, including Vitt, thought it was funny.
St. Louis at Seattle,
1:15 p.m., Ch. 13
The tension was gone.
Joe Vitt is the perfect football coach. He is tough as alligator hide. And soft-hearted as a social worker. Now for the first time in his three-decade career, he comes to Seattle on Sunday as an NFL head coach, leading the St. Louis Rams.
"I'm so proud of Joe Vitt," former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox said by telephone Wednesday. "He has the unique quality of being able to make a player accountable, but he always did it with a twinkle in his eye. He has a great positiveness about him."
Vitt is the embodiment of the American dream. He has ridden the pigskin local from strength coach to position coach, to interim head coach of the Rams. It's almost an impossible trip to make.
"When I was the strength coach, there was no cutting edge of strength coaching," Vitt said this week. "It was really kind of a part-time job for me. When I went to Seattle my main job was to do defensive breakdowns and weigh the guys in and break stuff down on film. The strength stuff probably only took three or four hours a day.
"When Chuck came to Seattle, he was absolutely not going to have a strength coach. Chuck was old school. He was going to teach guys fundamentals. How to tackle and block, and he really didn't care about lifting weights."
In 1983, Knox, then the new Seahawks coach, changed Vitt's job description, putting him together with defensive coordinator Tom Catlin and assigning him the duty of putting together all the defensive films. Year by year, the job evolved.
"You just kind of keep your nose to the grindstone," Vitt said, "and keep on working and trying to get better and try to get your players to believe in what you're teaching."
Players believe in Vitt. He has an innate talent to make people want to play for him.
"You didn't want to draw his ire," Wyman said. "But you could always count on him. He was such a hard worker. Just a good man. A guy who just really deserves to be where he is. You've got to inspire guys to play for you, and Joe could.
"He cared so much about his players. He would come back to you in the plane after a game and say, 'I saw this tendency and that.' He just loves football, and I think that's where his credibility came from."
Vitt was the strength coach for the Baltimore Colts in 1979, then became the strength coach in Seattle, then defensive backs coach for the Seahawks. When Knox went to Los Angeles, Vitt became assistant head coach of the Rams.
He was linebackers coach in Philadelphia, secondary coach in Green Bay, linebackers coach in Kansas City and was the assistant head coach in St. Louis until he was named the interim head coach three games ago, after coach Mike Martz left the team because of a heart infection.
The Rams are 2-1 under Vitt.
"When he became a [defensive backs] coach I was skeptical at first," said Paul Moyer, a Seahawks safety (1983-89) and coach (early 1990s). "It was a different role for him. We'd never seen him in that role before. No one knew how much coaching ability he had. It was like we were wondering, 'What do you really know?'
"As it turns out, he knew a lot. He had a work ethic like nobody else's. He flat outworks people. He was one of the best coaches I had. A coach who got as much out of a player as any coach I've ever known. He just had that kind of charisma. I mean, wow, we didn't want to let him down.
"Each coach wants a Joe Vitt on his staff. A guy who gets a lot out of his players. People who know Joe Vitt love Joe Vitt. I absolutely love Joe Vitt. I wanted to win for him."
Vitt has an impeccable pedigree. He has worked with some of the most accomplished coaches in the business — Knox, Martz, Ray Rhodes, Dick Vermeil.
"He is the consummate football coach," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said.
Vitt is the kind of guy you root for. A tough guy with a golden heart. A coach consumed by the game, who still has a sense of perspective outside the game.
A cancer survivor, he was one of the first people to call Holmgren, when Holmgren's wife, Kathy, was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"He goes out of his way to make people feel good," Moyer said.
Vitt was diagnosed with testicular cancer while in Seattle. When he was undergoing chemotherapy he never missed a practice, never missed a meeting, even when he would become violently ill.
Former players tell stories of Vitt in his hospital bed, before and after surgery, asking coaches to bring him film to study. They believe he stayed alive through sheer tenacity. He immersed himself in football, and it helped him survive.
"No one ever knew how sick he was," Moyer said. "He would throw up. He would be very tired, but he kept working because that's what he believed in. Maybe he thought if he took it easy that would have been a sign of weakness. But he was so private about it. He never let us know how bad he felt."
While Vitt was recovering, Knox had to force him to leave the Hawks' headquarters early.
"I told him, 'If you want a job, you have to leave. Now,' " Knox said.
In Seattle, the coaches had meetings Knox called "Knights of the Round Table" to game plan for the next week's game. They were serious meetings, but Vitt always found a way to lighten the mood.
"He would always try to crack me and Rusty Tillman up," Moyer said. "He would make these facial expressions during the meetings. Or he would come into the meeting with a story about something that happened at practice, and he would perfectly imitate the guys involved. Rusty and I would be pinching ourselves. Biting our lips. Chuck would look over at us and tears would be coming down our faces."
Vitt, 51, isn't just a figurehead in St. Louis. He has changed the look of the Rams since taking over for Martz. He has muted the aerial circus and given the ball to running back Steven Jackson, creating a new version of Ground Chuck where "The Greatest Show on Turf" once existed.
"You would expect the team to rally around him," Holmgren said. "He's always had the ability to get guys fired up to play."
He'll make you mad. He'll make you laugh. But the one thing that has been most consistent about Joe Vitt since Knox gave him his first coaching chance 22 years ago — he'll make you play harder than you've ever played in your life.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company
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