Haslett Settling In
Friday, February 17, 2006
By Nick Wagoner
For many coaches, the transition from the coaches’ booth to the broadcast booth is an easy one. Sure, many of those coaches would rather be working the sidelines on Sundays, but it’s easy enough to take time away from the game to break down all the action from a perch atop the upper rim of the stadium or in a studio somewhere.
When Jim Haslett parted ways with the Saints, he reviewed his options and took an opportunity to go on a football show to discuss the Super Bowl.
“I interviewed for a few jobs,” Haslett said. “I turned down a few interviews; I wasn’t too excited about some opportunities. Last year was a hard year on myself and all the coaches, and really the whole city. So I decided that if I didn’t get a job, or the right job, that I would probably sit out a year and see if I could get back in the next year.”
As Haslett sat there talking about every last detail of the game, something came over him. It hit him like a ton of bricks; he had no interest in being anything but a football coach.
But it was hard for the man who had been in charge of the Saints the past six years to come to terms with being a coordinator when it became clear that he wasn’t going to be a head coach again in 2006.
Soon after the Rams hired Scott Linehan as their new head coach, he apprehensively put in a call to Haslett. Figuring there was little chance that Haslett would agree to be the coordinator, Linehan almost didn’t make the call.
"He said, 'You are probably not interested in doing this, but I figured I'd give you a call and ask you. Ohh, you probably don't want to do this.'” Haslett said. “I said, 'What do you want?' He said, 'Are you interested in being a coordinator?' I said, 'Not really. I'm going to sit out a year and reflect on everything."'
After some prodding, Linehan convinced Haslett to meet with him in Miami to discuss the possibilities. The two had a couple of long meetings and when all was said and done Haslett had changed his mind about taking a coordinator’s position.
Of course, it wasn’t just Linehan’s persuasive powers that convinced Haslett to reconsider. As Haslett sat on that television set discussing inane minutiae that few really cared about, he decided that the coaches’ booth was the only one he wanted to be sitting in on Sundays.
“It was a one hour show and it took five and a half hours,” Haslett said. “I called my wife and said, ‘Screw this stuff.’ That wasn’t really for me. I just wanted to have an opportunity to coach again. I’m around guys that are friends and good football coaches, and I think its going to be a good experience.”
Just how good that experience will be for Haslett will be directly correlated to how well and, more important, how fast he can turn around a defense that finished 30th in the league a year ago and allowed an NFC-worst 429 points in 2005.
With other opportunities on his plate, including head coaching interviews with Detroit and the Jets, Haslett probably could have gone somewhere else and been back at the top without having to step back to a coordinator’s spot first.
But, for the man who was once one of the most hated men in St. Louis, the Rams provided him an opportunity to continue doing what he loves. With the understanding that Haslett might not be in St. Louis for long – he signed a three-year deal – Linehan realizes that Haslett might not be the long term answer for the position.
“Hiring Jim, it was a stroke of luck,” Linehan said. “We're not going to have him very long. He's going to be a head coach again soon.”
Assuming Haslett is able to get the defense turned around; he probably will do just that. But that’s OK with Linehan, for that would mean that the defense is playing well and the Rams are probably winning games.
As for the talent that Haslett is inheriting, he sees a few bright spots, some of which will have to be dealt with in free agency. He likes what he sees in strong safety Adam Archuleta and made it clear he would like to retain him. He also likes what he sees in defensive end Leonard Little and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa.
Haslett has been vague in clarifying what type of defense he would like to run, but it’s a safe bet to say the Rams will likely be more creative and aggressive than they have been in recent years. Haslett has a history working in 4-3 base formations as well as 3-4 base formations.
He made his name as the defensive coordinator for the Steelers by coming up with exotic, blitz-heavy packages, especially on third downs. Where many teams choose to drop into Cover 2 with extra defensive backs on third and long, Haslett has long been a fan of continuing to attack a quarterback in certain passing downs.
“I’m coming from a system where I coached in Pittsburgh and in New Orleans where we blitzed a lot and did a lot of different things,” Haslett said. “Really, we’ll do what we have to do to try and win games based on personnel. We’re putting in coverages right now. We’re not putting in fronts. If we have personnel to run a 3-4, we’ll run a 3-4. If we have personnel to run a 4-3, we’ll run a 4-3. If we have guys who can blitz, like Adam Archuleta, we’ll do some of that stuff. We’ll take advantage of the players’ abilities.”
No matter what, Haslett is almost sure to have a more enjoyable time than he did in his final year in New Orleans. As he and the rest of the city dealt with Hurricane Katrina, Haslett was separated from his family for most of the year. If that wasn’t difficult enough, he led the Saints to a miserable 3-13 season that saw them bounce from place to place playing “home” games in places such as San Antonio and Baton Rouge.
Considering what Haslett went through a year ago, the transition from head coach back to defensive coordinator shouldn’t be too difficult.
“I don’t think so, because once you get into it, and once you start doing it, and you get in your room, and you start coaching football, its fun again,” Haslett said. “I didn’t have fun last year coaching at all, and I’m going to enjoy this season. We’re going to make the defense better. We’re going to try to win enough games and get us ranked high enough that we get into the playoffs. That’s our number one goal. The offense has a lot of talent, and they’re going to score points. We have to do our end of it too.”