By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Sep. 29 2008
High above the playing field where Scott Linehan's immediate professional
future was being decided early Sunday evening, the hors d'oeuvres and finger
foods went untouched. The gravity of the moment meant that there were a lot of
anxiety-filled stomachs, tense faces and unpleasant decisions being made.

Or so we thought.

Forty-five minutes after the sting of yet another bad loss — this one a 31-14
collapse to the visiting Buffalo Bills — a meeting of the Rams' executive
hierarchy dispersed. As the team's owners and top front-office brass slowly
departed that fifth-floor luxury suite inside the Edward Jones Dome shortly
before 7 p.m., the wheels were already in motion to end the troubled 2½-year
run of Linehan as the Rams' 22nd head coach.

But with the Rams, nothing is ever easy or obvious. With the Rams, there is
always the potential for some Machiavellian twist, some Alice in Wonderland
turn. With the Rams, there is always the potential for some sort of
mind-numbing, goofy, hallucinogenic trip into another wildly dysfunctional time
and dimension more bizarre than the one we just encountered.

So for some reason known only to the mighty conflicted minds inside the
ownership's close-knit circle of influence, several hours later as they
continued to deliberate in a swanky hotel suite, no one apparently could make
the move.

At the clock kept drawing closer to midnight, the Linehan error — mmm, era —
was still in place.

Maybe we'll wake up this morning and we'll find out that a news conference has
been called. But I'm nervous. There's no telling what's behind the looking
glass in this Rams wonderland. Today, there should be a room full of minicams,
motor drives, microphones and curious inquisitors jammed inside the same Rams
Park auditorium where Linehan accepted the job 32 months ago, waiting to hear
the announcement that he has been released.

But you never know.

No one asked me, but maybe I can help them with their troubled minds. You want
to know what to do next?

Step No. 1: FIRE LINEHAN NOW — Linehan is probably gone and if he is, the hard
part begins. Fixing the mess that has taken more than a decade to create should
begin with one quick move and a few prudent ones.

Step No. 2: THE INTERIM COACH — It makes no sense to go outside the
organization to look for an interim, because only a fool would step into this
job without knowing the true lay of the land. So all those calls for Dick
Vermeil, Bill Cowher, Jim Fassell or Marty Schottenheimer are borderline
insane. First off, they don't know the current personnel. Secondly, other than
Vermeil, why would Cowher, Fassell or Schottenheimer — or any other top-shelf
outside guy — take this mess on an interim basis with no guarantees for next
season, and no clue who he will be working for next season?

Yes, folks, Jay Zygmunt will be relieved of his general manager duties, just
not right now. But that's OK, I can wait. But without knowing who Zygmunt's
successor will be, and for that matter who will be the team president, too
(John Shaw will probably retire at season's end), no outsider need apply for
interim duty.

That's why Linehan's replacement has to come from within, and that's why
defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is the only logical choice. And before you
all start groaning, hear me out. This is why Haslett makes the most sense:

First and foremost, the players will respond to him. I took a rather
unscientific poll of many of the players in that locker room about Linehan's
departure and Haslett's potential promotion and got nothing but positive
responses. Haslett's a hard-nosed, high-energy guy (that's a nice way of saying
he'll get in your face all day 'til Sunday).

Secondly, he has a track record as a relief specialist. In his first year as a
head coach in 2000, he turned around the New Orleans Saints from a 3-13 record
in 1999 to a 10-6 record and the NFC West title. He's a former NFL coach of the
year. And even though he was fired after six years in New Orleans with an
overall losing record (45-51), by all accounts his finest coaching hour might
have been his last year there when the Saints finished 3-13 in the aftermath of
Hurricane Katrina.

Haslett held that team together under impossible circumstances when the team
was relocated to San Antonio, where the Saints played, lived and practiced in
awful conditions. After the game on Sunday, he left the locker room without
talking to any reporters, but according to multiple sources, he had already
been informed that owner Chip Rosenbloom favors him for the promotion.

Step No. 3: HIRE THE RIGHT MAN AT THE TOP — In the grand scale of things,
Linehan's ouster and Haslett's imminent promotion are preliminary stuff to the
far more impactful moves that are already quietly in the works for this
fractured organization. Zygmunt will be accorded a dignified retirement at
season's end, a reward for 27 years as a faithful, though far too ineffective,
soldier. Shaw could also go quietly into the sunset at year's end.

But there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered.

Two unknown candidates have already been interviewed as possible replacements
for Zygmunt, according to several team sources. I don't know who they are, but
two of the first people I would talk to are Ron Wolf, and maybe the most
intriguing name of all, Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf.

The most important thing this organization needs now is the face of the
franchise. They need a forceful football man put in charge of the entire
operation, someone with authority and autonomy to do what needs to be done to
fix this mess of a franchise. The next team president has to be a football man
who is not going to be an absentee boss.

One of his Dierdorf's sayings about football tells you what sort of boss he
would be:

"If you don't win, people should lose their jobs."