By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
One snapshot of the Rams' sideline Sunday against San Francisco best illustrated why Scott Linehan has handed over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
In the second quarter, rookie cornerback Tye Hill made a textbook interception of an Alex Smith pass intended for Antonio Bryant at the Rams' 30. But Hill got a little carried away with his play and was flagged for taunting. The penalty pushed the ball back to the 15.
As Hill reached the sideline, Linehan had a chance to play good cop and bad cop in one fell swoop. Linehan congratulated Hill on the play, and then lectured him about the penalty.
"An excellent play happened, and then a very bad decision happened after it," Linehan said Monday.
"Those are the kinds of things that need to be addressed by the head football coach — period," Linehan said.
But had Linehan been calling plays against the *****, it would have been all but impossible to get that message across to Hill right at that moment.
"Those are the kinds of things that were hard to do, to be honest with you, as a play-caller," Linehan said. "Because you've got to get in that zone. You've got to move over, get in your little phone booth and kind of keep people away as much as you can."
During games, play-callers must be detached from what's going on around them, particularly if it doesn't involve the offense. They have to be thinking about the next play, the next series, what the opposing defense is doing, etc.
One of the criticisms of Mike Martz during his head-coaching tenure in St. Louis was that he was too detached on game day, and that affected his game management. It's an age-old problem for head coaches who call their own plays. Basically, they are head coaches six days a week but offensive coordinators on game day. In the case of Linehan, he decided a change was needed just 10 games into his head-coaching career.
"To me, at this point in my tenure as a head coach, I felt much better and much more comfortable with that situation (Sunday)," Linehan said.
In other words, having Olson call the plays.
"I felt based on where we were in this season. . .there needed to be some kind of a change," Linehan said. "Not just offensively, but as a team. I think my leadership needed to be felt in all three phases. It's like I said last week when I felt we lacked a spark or some lack of direction in the Carolina game. I took that to heart. I basically laid that on me. Some things had to change."
It doesn't mean the Rams' offense will undergo a radical change. The plays and the overall offensive philosophy will remain the same. Linehan will remain heavily involved in the game-planning during the week. But on game day, only one person can call the plays. For the indefinite future that person will be Olson, which means Olson will have the ability to put his own stamp on the offense.
"I think we're similar, but he had his own touch (against San Francisco)," Linehan said. "I think it really helped, especially with our ability to stick with the run."
Olson, 43, is a mere 6 1/2 months older than Linehan. Like Linehan, he was a college quarterback, playing for Central Washington. Linehan and Olson had never worked together before this year, but were good friends who have known each other for more than 20 years.
"We grew up within 15-20 miles of each other (in Washington)," Linehan said. "And basically grew up under the same college system with Dennis (Erickson)."
But as his career progressed, Olson became more exposed to the "West Coast" offense, a controlled passing game that features more of an emphasis on short and intermediate routes. So there was an adjustment period for Olson once he joined Linehan's Rams staff.
"Some of the passing game concepts that Scott was familiar with I had to learn kind of on the run when he hired me," Olson said.
As quarterbacks coach for Steve Mariucci in Detroit, Olson called plays for the final three games of the 2004 season, and for the final five games of the '05 season after Mariucci was fired.
"I appreciate the opportunity to call plays," Olson said. "I'm happy that Scott had the confidence to come to me with the proposition. ... I think if you look at his background, every place he has been, he's had a lot of success. And he's always been involved as a play-caller."
To the players, it was another indication that Linehan won't let his ego get in the way of what he feels is best for the team.
"It's probably been the thing I've been most impressed with him," offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "Somebody makes a suggestion, and if thinks it's a good idea, he's ... going to take the advice and apply it. He's really been open-minded to people. We're all trying to win, and he doesn't take it as a personal attack on him if somebody's got a suggestion."