By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
10/26/2005

Will Rams coach Mike Martz be back in 2006? And under what conditions? A tug of war is developing between Martz and Rams management over Martz's future with the team, and the battle lines appear to have been drawn.

The result could be a negotiated settlement between the Rams and Martz as the only way out for both parties. Or Martz simply could play out the string in 2006 in a "lame-duck" situation without a contract extension.

During a news conference Monday, Rams president John Shaw fell short of saying unequivocally that Martz would be back in 2006. He expounded on that subject Tuesday in an interview with the Post-Dispatch.

"We anticipate that he'll be back," Shaw said Tuesday. "But if it gets to be a situation where he wants to dictate terms of his returning, then that will complicate this. He's got a year left on his contract. We anticipate that he'll be back to coach."

But Shaw said he wasn't sure if Martz would return in 2006 without a contract extension.

"I think his anticipation is that he's going to want an extension, and he's going to want to dictate terms of that extension," Shaw said. "And at this point, I'm not sure that any of that's going to happen. Our view is that we'll have to wait and see. We'll have to wait and see how he is physically and wait and see as to what his expectations are."

When asked what terms Martz might want to dictate, Shaw said, "I think financial terms ... and who's remaining in the front office. Who stays with the organization or doesn't stay with the organization. I think all those things, at least in talking to his agent, will ultimately be issues with him."

Martz deferred comments on his contract status Tuesday to his agent, Bob LaMonte. LaMonte did not return phone messages to the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday night.

Shaw said he offered a contract extension to Martz in June, but it was an extension based on the team's won-loss record during the 2005 season. Shaw declined to say precisely what that won-loss record had to be except that it was "less than reaching the playoffs."

Shaw said Martz rejected that proposal.

"Mike's response was that he didn't really have to prove himself," Shaw said. "So he wouldn't agree on an extension based on a performance level. And I respect his view that he felt he didn't have to prove himself. But there's also a view that coaches have to prove themselves every year."

On Tuesday, Shaw expressed doubt that the Rams are interested in extending Martz's contract under any circumstances.

"In my mind, we need to address the issue as to whether we would even offer an extension to a head coach who hasn't coached here this year," Shaw said.

Martz coached the Rams for the first five games of the season, winning two of five games, before taking a leave of absence because of a bacterial infection of the heart valve, a condition known as endocarditis.

Assistant head coach Joe Vitt was named interim head coach and has guided the team in Martz's absence for two games. But Monday, Martz announced that he would be sidelined for the rest of the season - on doctor's orders - to fully recover from his illness. Vitt will be head coach the rest of the season.

Shaw said Martz's illness and subsequent absence will complicate the evaluation process on any contract extension.

"We know where the team was at the time he left," Shaw said. "We know where the team was last year. I think Mike's expectation was that the team would be considerably better this year than last year. That's what he has told me.

"Maybe the team's performance up to the time he left was a factor of his health. I just don't know all those things. So, it is kind of a difficult thing to assess. We'll just wait and see."

Shaw continued: "We were .500 last year. And I'm not sure we're going to be .500 this year. I just don't know how the team's going to perform. I think we will make those decisions that we think would be in the best interests of the football program."

When asked if he expected Martz to return in 2006 without an extension, Shaw replied: "Sure. Why not? I think Coach (Dick) Vermeil's coaching this year in Kansas City without a contract beyond this season. It might not be your usual case, but I don't find it so unusual."

When asked if the team might reach a settlement in which the final year of Martz's contract would be nullified by paying him all or part of his 2006 salary of about $3.5 million, Shaw said, "That type of conversation is so premature. If we ever get to that bridge, we'll cross it went we get there. Really, at this point, our interest is not really in settling out Mike's contract. Our interest is that he gets well and at some point we discuss his status for next year."

Given the fallout between Martz and Rams president of football operations Jay Zygmunt, it's difficult to imagine both parties co-existing for another year. During a radio interview Tuesday on KSLG, 1380-AM, Martz was asked if he and Zygmunt could get on the same page again.

"From a business standpoint, yes," Martz said. "From a personal standpoint, I don't know. There have been just too many things that have happened."

Shaw said it could work, if both parties agreed to work together.

"I think in America there's a lot of people that have jobs who might not like the person and the people that they work with," Shaw said. "I think that they overcome that and work on a professional level and get things accomplished."