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Linehan just what the Rams needed
Seven rookie head coaches were charged with turning around downtrodden programs, and four of them have gotten off to strong starts.
The Jets' Eric Mangini (4-3) gets the spotlight because he's in New York, the media capital of the world.
The Saints' Sean Payton (5-1) gets the spotlight because he's in New Orleans, this season's sentimental favorite.
The Vikings' Brad Childress (4-2) gets the spotlight because his team just beat the defending NFC champions in Seattle.
Then there's former Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan (4-2) in St. Louis.
Not only are his Rams in the shadow of another sports team in town, Linehan is on the worst football team in his family. Matt, 11, is on a 6-0 team, while Michael, 10, is on a 5-1 team.
"I've got the worst record in the family, and they're both going to the playoffs," Scott Linehan said Thursday morning. "I can't keep up with them."
The Rams can live with that.
Linehan clearly was the right man for the job, one that presented him with more surmountable issues than just reversing the franchise's record. In the midst of a 6-10 season, including four losses in the final five games, the Rams also were fraught with infighting and an embarrassing episode involving a team executive last year.
There was some skepticism of Linehan's hire because of his youth (43) and his NFL inexperience (four seasons as an offensive coordinator, including three with the Vikings).
But leaning on the lessons of UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden, Linehan highlighted the positives instead of the negatives, and he diligently stressed unity and family.
"The worst mistake people make when someone comes in is to assume everything is bad," Linehan said. "As recent as 1999 and 2001, St. Louis was an elite program. But for some reason, three of the last four years, they didn't have a winning record. Something happened. What needed to be changed?" Linehan acknowledged there was some "salesmanship," yet he also added that the transformation wouldn't happen overnight.
"I'm sure Brad can tell you it's a daily thing," Linehan said. "But you have to stay consistent. It's not a challenge. But it's a lot of work. You can't ride the emotional wave. You have to stay even-keeled, and believe in what you believe in, and just improve daily."
For instance, Linehan's offense didn't score a touchdown during the exhibition season and scored only one in the first two games of the season. But during the offseason, Linehan invited players like quarterback Marc Bulger and receiver Torry Holt to provide input on the playbook, so they endured the early struggles.
The Rams then won three consecutive games, including two on the road, before their agonizing loss to the Seahawks. If not for a controversial penalty that allowed the Seahawks to set up for a 54-yard game-winning field goal, the Rams would be 5-1 and alone atop the NFC West. "You can't be too result-oriented," Linehan warned. "You have to look for progress."
One Rams beat writer said Linehan was exactly what the team needed, calling him "a nice guy with an edge."
Veteran receiver Kevin Curtis recently told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the team has changed for the better.
"Without a doubt, there's a different attitude, just in the locker room," Curtis said. "There were different things going on last year. You didn't know what to expect. This year, it's really a good foundation with the coaches and some of the players that we have in there."
Linehan returns to the Metrodome in the season finale, when the Vikings could be playing the Rams for a wild-card spot. But he's not looking that far ahead, focused, like Childress, on a key four-game stretch. After visiting the 4-2 San Diego Chargers, the Rams will host the Kansas City Chiefs then travel to Seattle and Charlotte.
Along the way, though, Linehan will stress the same message.
"You got to stay steady," Linehan said. "It's a marathon season."