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  1. #1
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    Mike Martz' fall from grace

    Mike Martz' fall from grace
    By Jim Thomas
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    01/01/2006


    He steered the Rams to the Super Bowl. But politics and personality conflicts obscured his genius, and now head coach Mike Martz appears on the way out.

    With his silver hair, glasses and polite manners, the Rams' new offensive coordinator looked almost bookish - more scholar than football coach. When he accepted the job after two years as an assistant coach in Washington, Mike Martz didn't look or act much different than he did in 1995 and 1996, when he was a Rams assistant under Rich Brooks: quiet, low-key and unassuming.

    Back then, he was in charge of wide receivers. But in January 1999, Martz was put in charge of the entire Rams offense under head coach Dick Vermeil. By the time training camp started that summer, the offense looked a lot different than it did when Martz accepted the job.

    "It's like winning the lotto," Martz said at the time. "I came to the Rams, and we signed Trent Green, and we have a healthy Isaac Bruce, and then we draft Torry Holt. All of that, and then it's, 'Oh yeah, here's Marshall Faulk at running back.'

    "Dick has made a lot of outstanding personnel decisions, and he should get the credit for that. At this point, my job is, 'Don't screw them up.' "

    He didn't, of course. Even back in July 1999, Martz gave a hint of what would come.

    "We're going to be aggressive," Martz said. "You have to let these guys play and not be afraid to take chances. You can't go out there and be afraid to lose. You have to play to win. And our talent level on offense is good enough to win with."

    Those seemed like bold words at the time. The Rams, after all, were 22-42 during their first four seasons in St. Louis. Dating back to their days in Southern California, they had endured nine consecutive losing seasons.

    For all his talents, Faulk was part of an Indianapolis team that went 3-13 in 1998. Bruce had not won more than seven games in any season as a Ram. Holt was a rookie. Green had only 14 starts on his NFL resume.

    And when Green went down with a season-ending knee injury in late August, it looked hopeless. The obscure Kurt Warner took over at quarterback, and the early results were encouraging.

    After the Rams scored 35 points and gained 442 yards to defeat reigning NFC champion Atlanta, Martz was awarded a game ball.

    "I've never had as much fun in my whole life," Martz said afterward. "I probably will never have a group like this again. I'm under a star right now. ... Who knows how long this will go?"

    On one level, those were bold words, considering the Rams were a mere 2-0 at the time. But they proved to be prophetic. By the end of the 1999 regular season, the Rams were playoff-bound, and Martz had become a hot head-coaching prospect.

    Before the Rams' playoff opener with Minnesota, the New England Patriots called to formally express interest in Martz for their vacant head-coaching job. Sensing they had something special, the Rams reached a highly unusual agreement: On Jan. 15, 2000, the eve of the NFC divisional playoff against the Minnesota Vikings, they agreed to make Martz their head-coach-in-waiting.

    Whenever Vermeil retired, Martz would take over as head coach. (With Martz off the market, the Patriots later settled on Bill Belichick.)

    "Whenever" turned out to be two days after the Rams' dramatic Super Bowl victory over Tennessee.

    "The program is in real good shape, and Mike Martz is prepared to take it over," Vermeil said at the time. "The coaching staff is intact, and I think he could follow the lead of a great example that was established years ago with the *****, when Bill Walsh stepped down and turned it over to George Seifert. Did they not go on and win the Super Bowl?

    "I believe that Mike can do that. I believe this organization can do it."

    A wild ride followed:

    An electric, pedal-to-the-metal offense, originally dubbed, "The Greatest Show on Earth" flourished. (The nickname was later modified to "The Greatest Show on Turf.")

    Many dramatic victories, and some heart-breaking defeats, as the Rams became a national team and a prime-time regular.

    Warner's amazing rise and equally incredible fall.

    The emergence of the "Mad Mike" Martz persona. He was unconventional, unpredictable, outspoken and often brash, but never boring.

    Over the final few seasons, front-office friction between Martz and president of football operations Jay Zygmunt that boiled over into the public view this fall.

    It all came crashing down this season. Martz took a leave of absence in early October because of endocarditis, a bacterial infection in a heart valve. Interim head coach Joe Vitt took over in mid-October and will lead the team Sunday night in Dallas. But technically, the season finale against the Cowboys marks Martz's final game as Rams head coach.

    Barring a change of heart by team president John Shaw, a contract settlement will be reached with Martz within the next week. An unprecedented era of St. Louis professional football will come to a close.

    The Greatest Show

    The 1999 Rams, with Martz as coordinator, may have won the Super Bowl. But the 2000 squad, with Martz as head coach, had the best offense. Had Warner not suffered a broken finger in Game 7 against Kansas City, the 2000 Rams would have shattered nearly every NFL offensive record in the book.

    They set plenty anyway, including most yards gained in a season (7,005) and most passing yards gained in one season (5,232). Their 540 points scored amounted to the third most in league history. Had Warner not missed five games with the injury, they might have topped 600.

    The apex came Oct. 1, 2000 against San Diego. Scoring on their first 11 possessions, the Rams rolled to a 57-31 victory, piling up 614 yards in the process.

    The Rams were almost as potent during their 2001 Super Bowl season, scoring 500-plus points for a league-record third straight year.

    "We're in a special place in time," Martz said at the outset of the 2001 season. "We're trying to make this thing last as long as we can, because it's so much fun. That being said, I ended up by accident being caretaker of a phenomenal group of people."

    But it was more than a matter of superior personnel. Taking their lead from Martz, the Rams played with an attitude that exuded more than mere confidence. They played with swagger. Always working on new wrinkles for the offense, Martz wasn't afraid to think outside the box. And the last thing he worried about was balance. In the 2000 San Diego contest, for example, the first 17 plays Martz called were passes.

    Later in the 2001 Super Bowl season, Martz conceded his obsession with the passing game. "Of course, I get carried away," he said. "With the talent out there, wouldn't you? I have to fight it all the time."

    Trouble in paradise

    Even in the best of times, storm clouds never seemed far off the horizon at Rams Park. The 2000 Rams needed every point they could muster because of a defensive collapse that resulted in 471 points allowed, a franchise record. During the bye week that season, Martz planned on firing defensive coordinator Peter Giunta and special teams coach Larry Pasquale, only to be talked out of it by Shaw. The Rams were 5-0 at the time.

    Two weeks later, Martz coaxed Bud Carson out of retirement in Florida to help resuscitate the St. Louis defense as a consultant. By midseason, Martz benched defensive end Kevin Carter and cornerback Todd Lyght. Both were upset over their contract situations at the start of the season.

    Add Warner's injury, and it was a taxing inaugural season as head coach, ending in a wild-card loss in New Orleans. "Mike got about five years experience in one year," Zgymunt, president of football operations, said after that season.

    Carter, Lyght, Giunta and Pasquale, among others, were gone before the start of the 2001 season. A dramatic defensive makeover helped get the Rams to another Super Bowl. Along the way, Martz and the Rams made plenty of enemies.

    If there was one game that defined Martz's image nationally, it was a 2001 contest against the New York Jets. Leading 31-7 late in the third quarter, Martz dialed up an onside kick in the Meadowlands. The New York media immediately vilified Martz for kicking the Jets when they were down.

    "No head coach in pro football since Buddy Ryan, who was once called a 'fat jerk' by Jimmy Johnson, irks his peers like Martz," wrote Mike Freeman in The New York Times. "Martz is the man people love to hate."

    Somehow lost in the discourse was the fact that the Jets had rallied from a 17-point deficit the week before to defeat Miami.

    For his detractors, Martz got his comeuppance in Super Bowl XXXVI, when his heavily favored Rams lost 20-17 to New England in one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history.

    "If I felt like that was the only time we'd be there, then I'd really be distraught," Martz said afterward. "I just believe we'll have another opportunity. Whether it's next season or whenever, we're going to get another opportunity at it."

    The end game

    Martz was criticized widely for not running Faulk more against the Patriots. At the NFL owners' meetings that March, Martz startled reporters - some of whom initially thought he was kidding - by saying he should have come out in the two-minute offense against New England.

    At the outset of the 2002 season, Martz was more uptight and intense than ever, later admitting he took the fun out of the game for his players. It showed in the early going, when the Rams staggered out of the gate to an 0-5 start.

    Things reached soap-opera status in December 2002, when Brenda Warner, Kurt's wife, called out Martz on live radio, disputing his contention that he had urged Warner to get an X-ray following his latest hand injury.

    After a disappointing 7-9 campaign, Shaw gave Martz a strong vote of confidence, but added this cautionary advice: "I would like to see him adjust better to the type of pressure that's on him."

    Martz seemed to adjust in 2003, when the Rams rebounded to a 12-4 mark and won another NFC West title. But despite all the good deeds by the 2003 squad, the Rams stumbled against a poor Detroit team in their regular-season finale, a loss that cost them home-field advantage in the playoffs. Then came the memorable double-overtime playoff loss to Carolina, in which Martz generated more controversy by sitting on the ball in the final minutes of regulation, settling for a game-tying field goal and overtime instead of going for a game-winning touchdown.

    In response to the criticism that followed, Martz seemed to withdraw into a shell, limiting media accessibility to him and picking his spots for interviews.

    A steady procession of departing free agents - London Fletcher, Grant Wistrom, Dre' Bly, Az-Zahir Hakim, Ernie Conwell, Dexter McCleon, to name a few - sapped the team of its depth. It also led to increased friction with Zygmunt, who was having more influence on personnel.

    When asked about the deteriorating relationship between Martz and Zygmunt, one Rams Park insider quipped, "Some months, they're lovers; other months, they're enemies."

    Despite all those issues, the Rams squeezed into the playoffs in 2004 at 8-8, and even won a wild-card playoff game in Seattle. But a crushing 47-17 defeat to Atlanta in the next round renewed criticism of Martz's selection of Larry Marmie as defensive coordinator, which cast more doubt about the direction of the team.

    Rebuffed in his efforts to get a contract extension, Martz entered the 2005 season uptight as ever. He also was very sick.

    On Oct. 5, Martz announced, "I haven't been feeling good for four or five weeks, and there is some type of infection in my body that has gotten worse."

    By the end of October, he was ruled out for the season with the bacterial infection. Amid all this, the friction intensified between Martz and the front office. On Oct. 24, Martz was asked if he would be back as Rams coach in 2006.

    "Well, I'm under contract," he replied. "I want to be here, obviously. So unless there's something that I don't know, I'll be here."

    That same question was posed to Shaw that day. "As I speak to you today, I fully expect that Mike will be our coach next year," Shaw said.

    Very soon, we will find out that is not the case.


    Martz and the Rams: A look back

    Jan. 22, 1999

    Accepts job as Dick Vermeil's offensive coordinator.

    Jan. 15, 2000

    Named head-coach-in-waiting; will replace Vermeil when Vermeil decides to retire.

    Feb. 1, 2000

    Takes over as head coach when Vermeil retires two days after Super Bowl XXXIV victory over Tennessee.

    Dec. 12, 2001

    Denies rift with GM Charley Armey; says he has final say in personnel decisions.

    Jan. 6, 2002

    Completes unprecedented third consecutive season with 500 points scoring by the team.

    Feb. 3, 2002

    Loses Super Bowl XXXVI to New England 20-17.

    March 20, 2002

    Says team should have come out in two-minute offense in the Super Bowl against Patriots.

    July 20, 2002

    Gets contract extension through 2006 season.

    Dec. 3, 2002

    Brendagate I. The wife of quarterback Kurt Warner challenges Martz over X-rays on her husband's broken hand.

    Sept. 8, 2003

    Replaces Warner with Marc Bulger after Warner suffers a concussion against the Giants.

    Sept. 30, 2003

    Brendagate II. Wife of QB Warner says her husband may seek trade at the end of season if Bulger remains the starter.

    Dec. 14, 2003

    Clinches third NFC West Division title in five years with victory over Seattle.

    Feb. 1, 2004

    Biblegate I. Warner says Rams coaches told him he spent too much time reading the Bible, which was detracting from his play.

    June 2, 2004

    Warner is released.

    Dec. 13, 2004

    Has office shouting match with offensive tackle Kyle Turley; Turley is released six months later.

    Jan. 2, 2005

    Clinches fifth playoff berth in six years with OT victory against Jets.

    Oct. 1, 2005

    Misses practice with what is described as a sinus infection.

    Oct. 5, 2005

    Says he needs treatment for what may be a bacterial infection of the heart valve, known as endocarditis.

    Oct. 10, 2005

    Takes indefinite leave of absence to treat endocarditis.

    Oct. 23, 2005

    Rebuffed in attempts to communicate via cell phone to coaching staff during New Orleans game.

    Oct. 24, 2005

    Announces he will sit out remainder of the season to treat and recover from endocarditis.

    Oct. 25, 2005

    Team president John Shaw says he is unwilling to commit to a contract extension for Martz

    BRUUUUUUUUCE


  2. #2
    psycho9985's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Martz' fall from grace

    I'm gonna miss Mike.
    My heart beats crazy and my blood runs wild

  3. #3
    rampower's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Martz' fall from grace

    me too. i wonder where he will end up.

  4. #4
    jkramsfan's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Martz' fall from grace

    wouldnt it be funny if he went to he chiefs to replace vermeil.

  5. #5
    majorram's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Martz' fall from grace

    I'm going to miss this guy, Martz will be a hot coaching candiate once the Rams release him

    steve:clanram:
    "The breakfast Club"

  6. #6
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    Re: Mike Martz' fall from grace

    It will be a big mistake to let him go. Some other team will be happy to have him as their HC.:tut
    [SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]

  7. #7
    NY RAMFAN's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Martz' fall from grace

    I've been a ram fan since the winter of 1989, the day before we lost against montanas ****ers. Eventhough since then we pretty much lost every single game I still was a ram fan, although I didn't care much about the game, even after stupid banks didn't score that TD against the vikings on the 1yrd line, I still was a ram fan, and then Dick came, and we got the SB since there those were the best 6 years I spent watching the NFL and trying to figure out by how much would we win the next game.
    Now the ride is over, the crazy guy is gone, and there will be no more fast and furious. :sad:
    I just hope those obscure years from 1990-1998 not to comeback.

    Lets just pray to God to iluminate our FO to bring a decent HC

  8. #8
    letsgoramz's Avatar
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    Re: Mike Martz' fall from grace

    looks likek they have
    Torry Holt Dont play that

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