By Jim Thomas
Rams Martz

Yes, Mike Martz feels great. But both he and his agent, Bob LaMonte, played down reports that he wants to return to coach the Rams this season.

"Of course I'd like to coach this season," Martz said Tuesday from San Diego, where he has spent the past week.

But wanting to coach and actually doing it are two different things, particularly for someone trying to recover from endocarditis - a bacterial infection of the heart valve.

Under the original timetable set down by his doctor, Victoria Fraser of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Martz would be healthy enough to return to work on a limited basis - roughly 10 to 15 weeks - by the end of November. But in announcing on Oct. 24 that he would sit out the rest of the season, Martz indicated that it wouldn't be fair to himself or the team to come back on a part-time basis.

Martz has been warned by Fraser that the risk of a quick return could outweigh the benefits.

"I feel good," Martz said. "I'm off all the medication now. The biggest concern now is getting my stamina back. The fatigue is just about all gone. ... I'm dying to come back."

But the impulsive Martz added: "I wouldn't feel very comfortable calling (Fraser) after all this. We'll just stay by the plan."

And that plan calls for Martz to wait until 2006 to resume coaching. At least it did last month. Martz saw Fraser a week ago and has no visit planned in the immediate future. Martz said his wife, Julie, has advised him not to return this season, citing possible health risks but also saying it would be unfair to interim head coach Joe Vitt.

Martz was asked if a December return to coaching would be disruptive to Rams players and Vitt.

"I don't know," Martz said. "You get so selfish about it."

Martz, who has been walking a few miles a day to get his stamina back, plans to return to St. Louis by the end of this week. Even if he set up an appointment the following week, took a physical and was cleared to return to coaching, that would leave only three or four games left in the regular season. By then he will have missed two months of the season.

"It's my belief after speaking to his doctor on a couple of occasions that he really won't be well until after the season, and really needs to get well," Rams president John Shaw said. "He needs to make sure that he gets the type of rest that's required for this condition.

"After speaking to Mike and his doctor several weeks ago, we were led to believe that there's no way he could come back full time before the end of the season. I would be surprised if he's medically cleared. I'm not going to speculate as to what we'd do at that point. But we're all concerned about him getting the sufficient amount of rest he needs to fully recover from this illness."

Interestingly, this latest development comes on the heels of the Rams making an adjustment to Vitt's contract - to compensate him for the head coaching duties he assumed the second week of October.

"We've just redone Joe Vitt," said LaMonte, who also represents Vitt. "And Joe Vitt is the head coach for the remainder of the season."

It's not a contract extension: Vitt's contract with the club still expires after this season. It's simply a pay raise.

Shaw declined to provide specifics other than to say: "It's prorated on the basis of what a starting head coach would get paid. It is my expectation that Joe will coach the balance of the year."

Shaw said he was surprised that reports surfaced about a possible return by Martz, "because I know the severity of his medical condition."

However, reports about Martz's improved health, and his readiness to return to coaching, may be a way of sending out a message to the rest of the NFL. Namely, that he is ready to resume work. If not in St. Louis, then elsewhere in '06. The league's firing and hiring season officially is under way with the ouster of Steve Mariucci in Detroit, and there could be more than a half-dozen head-coaching changes in the NFL.

It may also be a way to force the Rams' hand on Martz's status. Martz has one year left on his contract, but to date, Shaw has expressed no willingness to extend the contract or even to unequivocally say that Martz will be back in '06.

Following the open feuding between Martz and the front office in mid-October, it seems almost a certainty that Martz won't be back.

Shaw and LaMonte both said Tuesday they have had no conversations so far about an extension for Martz. And no conversations about a negotiated settlement that would buy out the final year of his contract.

"Our only concern with Mike has been his health," Shaw said. "It remains our No. 1 concern. All my conversations with LaMonte have been that we will address (other issues) when he's healthy."

For his part, LaMonte said reports of Martz wanting to come out may have been inflated.

"Basically, Mike's just said he feels good," LaMonte said. "That's all it is. ... But I think it's quite a leap of faith to say that he's coming back."