Linehan Introduces Staff
Wednesday, February 15, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

As Scott Linehan began piecing together his first NFL coaching staff, he had to remind himself to stop, look around and take his time in putting together the right pieces.

That task proved more difficult than he had hoped, but in the end, he came away with a mix of bright young minds and grizzled, experienced veterans. Linehan introduced his staff, minus a couple of coaches, to the St. Louis media Wednesday afternoon and emphasized the important of finding that balance.

“You need to have experience, and that’s why you need diversity on your staff of young guys, older guys, guys with NFL experience, guys that don’t,” Linehan said. “You have to lean on guys for different reasons, but the guys that are experienced on our staff and have been head coaches have been through it and have had to make those decisions. I have to definitely lean on those guys heavily for making the right calls on things.”

Including Linehan, the Rams now employ 18 coaches, 15 of whom are new to St. Louis and the Rams. Receivers coach Henry Ellard, strength and conditioning coach Dana LeDuc and special teams coach Bob Ligashesky are the only remaining components of the staff. Ligashesky was absent Wednesday as he prepared to evaluate punters and kickers in NFL Europe.

There will be one more spot filled relatively soon as Linehan continues his search for a defensive line coach. Former Idaho head coach Nick Holt had originally agreed to take the job, but opted to become the defensive coordinator at USC instead. That leaves a pool of other candidates to be decided upon in the near future.
With key decisions to be made on free agent defensive tackles Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett, the sooner that coach is hired the better.

“I have a pool of candidates that we’re going to interview,” Linehan said. “There is not a scientific way to hire coaches. It has to be a good fit for the system. Every once in a while, there is going to be a bump in the road. In this case, Nick Holt was my first choice to coach our D-line, but Nick got an opportunity to go be a coordinator back at maybe the premier college coaching position in the country. You can’t foresee that at the time, but you have to be ready and have a plan B ready. So, we’re going to be interviewing two or three candidates in the next four or five days and make sure they fit the requirements we have to coach our system on our defense.”

Brian Baker, Ted Cottrell and John Pease have been mentioned as possible candidates, but of the three, it appears Baker has the best shot at landing the job. There are believed to be other candidates in the mix, but Cottrell filed retirement papers with the league Tuesday and Pease might not be the choice as the Rams might not want too many people from the same staff.

Of the coaches introduced Wednesday, though, all had a previous relationship either with Linehan or defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. It was Haslett’s first opportunity to speak to the media since his hiring, a weird feeling for the former head coach of the Saints. Of course, Haslett led New Orleans during the peak of the Saints-Rams rivalry only a few years ago.

Now, Haslett is still getting used to the idea of being in charge of the Rams defense. That adjustment hasn’t been easy (Haslett was the only assistant not wearing a Rams polo shirt), but Haslett just couldn’t say not to staying in coaching after getting a taste of the alternatives.

“I did a show for the Super Bowl the week before I flew out to Los Angeles,” Haslett said. “It was a one hour show. It took five and a half hours. 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.”

Helping the transition for Haslett is the presence of the aforementioned coaches that are joining him in St. Louis. Haslett has previous relationships with almost all of the members of the defensive staff, none more so than assistant head coach and linebackers coach Rick Venturi and secondary coach Willy Robinson.

The defensive staff, in particular, boasts plenty of experience and fiery leadership. Considering the Rams’ 30th place finish in total defense a year ago, that experience and leadership will be a welcome change.

“First of all, in hiring Jim, we have two guys that were on his staff last year, one that has been on his staff before, and two other guys that will come in who are easy guys to work with that are really adaptable to that situation,” Linehan said. “Defensively, it was really important to me that we had that continuity.”

Joining Venturi and Robinson on Haslett’s staff are Joe Baker (defensive quality control), Ron Milus (assistant secondary) and the as yet to be named defensive line coach.

Offensively, Linehan will handle the play calling duties, but he has turned the coordinator reins over to Greg Olson. Olson last worked as the quarterbacks coach for the Lions before joining his old friend Linehan in St. Louis. For Linehan, it was important to get someone he trusts in the position of helping him run the offense.

While Olson won’t be calling plays, he will likely be Linehan’s right hand man on Sundays and a guy that Linehan can go to for advice. With Ellard in place as the returning mind on the offense and an experienced line coach in Paul Boudreau, Linehan was able to bring in some up and comers for the rest of the staff. That group won’t be asked to re-invent the wheel, but it will be relied on to act as a sounding board for Linehan and bring some renewed energy to the offense.

“Obviously with Scott part of the reason he was hired here was for his offensive mind,” Olson said. “It will be my job and our job as an offensive staff to solve problems and to help Scott solve problems offensively. Again, I think it is a real good fit. Do I see it as a challenge? Obviously it is a challenge, but I think last year I got my feet wet a little bit with that part of it. I’m up to the challenge.”

Others working with Olson on the offensive staff are Boudreau (offensive line), Ellard (receivers), Wayne Moses (running backs), Doug Nussmeier (quarterbacks), Jim Chaney (assistant offensive line), Judd Garrett (tight ends), Randy Hanson (quality control) and Jeff Horton (special assistant). Brad Roll has also been added as the assistant strength and conditioning coach.

Like any newly assembled coaching staff, Linehan has a past with almost all of the coaches hired in some way or another. Those that Linehan didn’t know either impressed him with their prior work (Ellard and Ligashesky) or were recommended by another coach that was added to the staff.

It’s a fact of life in the NFL that coaches will hire people they know and trust to be a part of their staff. In this case, Linehan took that into account, but it was by no means the determining factor in any of his choices.

“It’s a factor,” Linehan said. “Working with somebody, not necessarily your friends, but people you’ve worked with, are important because you’ve been in that room together, and you know how you work together. It’s not the deciding factor. I think a lot of it has more to do with are you a competent coach, and you can find a number of ways to find out a person’s competency. I think that’s the most important thing, being able to get along in the meeting room, get in the trenches when things aren’t good and all that is important too. I think those factors more than whether it’s someone you know, or someone you’ve been with. It is important. It is really important to me to have continuity in both rooms of guys that have been together, know each other. It really is a tough business. It’s tough enough when things are going well, but when things aren’t, you have to be able to stick together in that room and fight through it. That was a big part of it.”
All I have to say is. Lets get to the Draft!