Thursday, July 24, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
MEQUON, Wis. – Whether it’s a trip to the barber, a walk up the staircase with his son or a choice of color for his car, Scott Linehan has vowed for a serious change in every facet of life.
“I said I was going to find a way to do everything different this year,” Linehan said. “I had a black car last year and I changed to a white car. I had long hair last year and I changed to a crew cut. My son always goes down the stairs around one way and I always go the other way and we switched this year. I don’t know if it’s superstitious but I am having fun with it.”
Clearly, there wasn’t much fun to be had in 2007 when the Rams fell to 3-13 under an avalanche of injuries and incomplete performances. As the Rams reported to Concordia University for this year’s training camp which begins in earnest, there was a palpable and noticeable theme of change.
Perhaps taking a cue from presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, Linehan is preaching a platform of change. The theory, of course, is that whatever habits the Rams had in 2007 led to the team’s worst performance since moving to St. Louis. So, if those habits change, what could happen?
“You know what? We are going to have some fun this year,” Linehan said. “I can’t tell you what it’s going to be. We are going to have some laughs. We are going to do this thing together. That’s the way I approach it, as I do it with you guys, as I do it with the team, as I do it with my family. I want to have a totally different outlook because it was a tough year. I think I told a number of guys when the season was over that our football team needed to change and I needed to be part of it.”
Linehan’s impetus for change donned on him not in some moment of clarity that came from some random rumination and offseason reflection. No, in fact the motivation for change came before the final whistle of a season in which Linehan himself admitted to succumbing to the daily pressures that go with his job.
In the final moments of the season ending 48-19 loss at Arizona, safety Todd Johnson approached Linehan with a message the coach would carry with him to the offseason.
Johnson walked up to Linehan and told him the Rams would be back. Even in the closing moments of a 3-13 season, Johnson wanted Linehan to know that the way things played out in 2007 would not be their legacy.
“(He said) we’ll be back and we’ll have an opportunity to show everybody that this season was not the indication of what kind of people we are or team we are,” Linehan said. “And I remember thinking I can’t really wait to actually show that.”
The changes came fast and furious for the Rams from the addition of six new coaches to the aggressive free agent signings of guard Jacob Bell and kicker Josh Brown. The Rams set out in search of some alterations that could change more than the roster. They wanted a change of culture.
It remains to be seen whether that change will have a direct correlation to the team’s record or if it really has even taken place but the opportunity to find out will present itself with the team’s first practice Friday.
Of course, when change is the order of the day, the new location for training camp could provide just the setting Linehan seeks.
Veteran safety and team leader Corey Chavous first took note of Linehan’s new 'do then observed what a difference nearly eight months can make.
“He has a different haircut,” Chavous said. “I thought it was kind of cool. I think every day, starting off like this we will be able to build some camaraderie away from being in St. Louis. This is like our first road trip. We start off different from just that. It’s a change from anything that can be described as monotonous so that’s always good.”
The move of training camp could be the key note in the sermon of difference. Around the start of camp last year, Linehan began to feel that the team was being dragged down by the glut of monotony.
“Last year at this time, it felt like we were just in the same place,” Linehan said. “You come back for training camp and it’s like picking up from your last OTA. It just kind of seemed the same. When you come away to training camp, there is just something about it. You are excited about it. You want to be able to go somewhere where it’s just you and you can’t create that in your home environment. We really felt like as a team we needed to do something different.”
As Linehan and the Rams arrived to a cheerful crowd of about 75 supporters outside the team’s training camp headquarters, they took the opportunity to bask in the optimism a new season brings.
“I have been waiting for this day probably since the last game,” Linehan said. “There hasn’t been a lot of thinking of shutting it down and coming back. I did take a break this year. There were a lot of changes; a lot of things were done in a short amount of time that in my opinion were very positive changes for our football team.”
While Linehan has yet to address the players in a team setting at this training camp – that will happen Friday morning when the team has its first official meeting – he has made it known that he wants his players to embrace the idea of change and find a way to put the memories of the lost 2007 in the rearview mirror.
The first step was moving training camp, now it has to carry over to the field.
“We can’t get every game back that we want to get back right now from last year so you can’t really worry about that anyway,” Chavous said.
At last year’s training camp, a sign hung outside the Russell Training Center proclaiming the fields a “proving grounds.” This season, there is no such slogan to be found on the Concordia campus, though one sign touts that the road to Super Bowl XLIII begins here.
No, this theme doesn’t need to be emblazoned on a t-shirt or shouted from a mountain. It doesn’t need to be embraced, either, it’s already in place.
“I guess the general theme is that things are going to be different and expect them to be different,” Linehan said. “No one is making any promises right now. No one is saying what the records are going to be, no one is saying how many yards we are going to average. We know what we want to do, we know what our goals are but the expectation is going to be completely different. Hopefully they get the message that it will be different in a positive way with more wins and more success. To me the biggest message is we have to find that formula and we have to do it as a football team.”
The search for that winning formula begins now.