Rams' assistants await fate
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
As new Rams head coach Scott Linehan was introduced Friday in the auditorium on the first floor at Rams Park, former members of Mike Martz's staff sat in limbo upstairs.
The contracts of some of the 16 remaining assistant coaches expire next month; other coaches are signed through the 2006 season. None is guaranteed a job under Linehan, although wide receivers coach Henry Ellard has been asked to stay on, and it appears as if strength and conditioning coach Dana LeDuc will be retained.
Ellard, however, plans to interview for the same position in New Orleans and also is under consideration by the Detroit Lions.
"I've been in their shoes," said Linehan, an assistant coach at four colleges and for two NFL teams before landing his first head-coaching gig. "There are some darn good coaches who are here, and it's a shame that they're in a position where they're evaluated again. But that's part of change."
All the assistants have been told that they're free to talk with other teams. Linehan said he planned to make a decision on their future with the Rams in the next 10 days. "I'll give them an opportunity to visit with me," Linehan said. "And then if it's time to move on, we'll let them know at that point."
Offensive line coach John Matsko has taken a job on Herm Edwards' staff in Kansas City, and special assistant Matt Sheldon has been hired by new Minnesota coach Brad Childress. Some of the other Martz leftovers also are being considered for positions with other teams. That includes Joe Vitt, who served as interim head coach for the last three months of the season while Martz was treated for a heart-valve infection.
Linehan, who was the offensive coordinator for three years with the Vikings and one season in Miami, said hiring a strong defensive coordinator was his "most important priority." The Rams have played a 4-3 defense, but Linehan said he was more concerned about the individual than the particular scheme a candidate might favor.
"When you're looking for any kind of personnel, whether it's a player or a coach, you want to get the best," Linehan said. "I really think that's the most important thing, getting a real competent guy who can get guys to play good, whether you're playing a 3-4 or a 4-3."
Even before Linehan's hiring was assured, the Rams had expressed interest in former Green Bay defensive coordinator Jim Bates. He still is believed to be the Rams' top choice, but a bidding war for Bates could ensue, particularly involving the Houston Texans.
If he doesn't get the head-coaching job in Buffalo, Dick Jauron appears to be the other leading candidate. Other possibilities include Ted Cottrell, Jerry Gray and Donnie Henderson, plus former head coaches Jim Haslett, Mike Mularkey and Dom Capers.
The picture is murkier on offense. Greg Olson, who was the quarterbacks coach in Detroit under Steve Mariucci, could be a strong candidate for the coordinator's position, according to league sources.
In his first of two interviews, Linehan impressed Rams president John Shaw by presenting him with a detailed wish list of potential staff members. But Linehan conceded that some, and perhaps many, of those coaches might not be attainable.
"If we were just getting everybody we wanted, we probably weren't looking at the right guys," he said. "I coached and recruited in college for 13 years. You learn to handle rejection and move on and have a backup plan for a guy that's equally effective."
Still, that won't stop him from aiming high, he promised.
"We're going to set the profiles of the coordinators and the position coaches in an order and go after them aggressively," Linehan said. "And (if we have to) move on, move swiftly to the next guy. ... You can't go into it blind and say, 'I want the "A" coach, and if I don't get the "A" coach, then I've got a "B."' You've got to have A, B, C, D, E, all the way down the alphabet, ready to go."
Linehan didn't outline a specific timetable, but he indicated that he planned to have his staff in place soon. "It won't take long," he said. "We'll do the due diligence to get the right people."