By Jim Thomas

It has been a dizzying couple of weeks for Scott Linehan. But after signing a four-year contract with the Rams, for terms that weren't immediately available, Linehan is an NFL head coach at age 42 and working for a franchise that he says he has admired from afar.

"It's obviously an exciting time for me and my family," Linehan said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I think this is such a great franchise. I couldn't be more pleased to be part of a new era. The whole thing about the tradition here is probably underplayed. But I think there's a great tradition here to be part of."

Earlier this week, Linehan spent a couple of days holed up in a hotel in Los Angeles while the Rams completed their second round of interviews with head-coaching finalists Ron Rivera, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, and Cam Cameron, San Diego offensive coordinator.

"They were anxious (days)," Linehan said. "But it's been great. I can't say enough about John (Shaw) and Jay (Zygmunt). They've gone about this very professionally. I've had a very good attitude about it and felt I was in a win-win situation, but knowing all along that it would be a dream come true to have the opportunity to do this. I'm really pleased to have this chance, and I can't wait to get started."

Actually, Linehan already has gotten started and is assembling his staff. His top priority is hiring a defensive coordinator.

"To me, this is the most important hire," Linehan said. "You can say anything you want about who's hired to be the head coach at this point. But I think, to me, the biggest priority for this franchise right now is to get a defensive coordinator who's going to come in here and really impact this franchise. We're working tirelessly to get that done."

Linehan didn't want to name names Thursday night.

"I have a couple really strong candidates," he said. "It's too early to comment on it, because I want to do due diligence in looking for the best defensive coordinator we can hire. But I've got a couple of really exciting prospects. It's only a matter of time before we announce who it will be."

As of Thursday night, Linehan said he had not hired any staff, officially. "Nobody for sure, but we're getting close," he said.

Linehan, who will call his own plays in St. Louis, last played a Rams team in 2003, when he was offensive coordinator for Minnesota. He still likes the talent level in St. Louis.

"I think it's excellent," he said. "There's a great foundation, obviously, looking at it selfishly from the offensive side because of what they've done with the players that are in place.

"I know if Marc (Bulger) doesn't get hurt last year, they're a much more competitive team. That's part of the ups and downs and the breaks of the NFL. But I'm very excited about it."

In three years as Minnesota's offensive coordinator, from 2002 to 2004, the Vikings averaged 404 points a season. The Vikings finished second in the league in total offense in 2002, first in 2003 and fourth in 2004.

Last season in Miami, he took a Dolphins offense that ranked 29th in total offense the previous season and brought it to the middle of the pack - 14th - with journeyman Gus Frerotte at quarterback.

Despite that impressive NFL resume, Linehan realizes he will have a tough act to follow offensively as Mike Martz's successor.

"I have nothing but respect for what Mike did here," Linehan said. "He's one of the great offensive coaches, maybe in the history of the NFL, in my opinion. But we just move onward from that era. I'm sure Mike is moving on as well.

"I'm humble enough to know that I'm not trying to replace anybody like him. But I know that my job is a pretty big one, to try to uphold the standards that have been set around here."