Mike Martz punts special teams coach
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Less than a week after concluding the season with a thud against Atlanta, the Rams have two vacancies on Mike Martz's coaching staff.
Special teams coach Mike Stock has been fired, and secondary coach Perry Fewell has been hired by Chicago to coach the Bears' secondary.
Stock, 65, was with the Rams one season and becomes the third special teams coach to come and go in Martz's five seasons as head coach. Larry Pasquale was fired after one season in 2000, and Bobby April's contract was not renewed after three seasons with the club (2001-03).
"I've got nothing negative to say," Stock said Thursday night. "They've been very nice to me. It's been a real honor to be here. I feel bad because we didn't produce more. I feel very embarrassed that we didn't perform to the level that I've been used to."
A former fullback for legendary coach Ara Parseghian at Northwestern, Stock came to St. Louis with a reputation as a tough, old-school style of coach. Which was just what Martz was looking for.
"He's hard-nosed. He pays attention to all the little details of each phase of special teams," Martz said, at the time Stock was hired one year ago.
Like Pasquale and April before him, Stock came to St. Louis with a well-established reputation in NFL coaching circles. Stock had spent 12 of his previous 14 NFL seasons coaching special teams in Cincinnati, Kansas City and Washington. He was named NFL special teams coach of the year in 1997 with the Chiefs.
"I think what I've been able to accomplish up to this time speaks for itself," Stock said Thursday.
But like Pasquale and April before him, Stock was unable to get the Rams' special teams on track.
"My year here is just basically a continuation of what's happened in the past," Stock said, referring to the special teams problems here that preceded him. "But I don't know if anything's going to change."
The Rams have been struggling to find kickoff-return and punt-return men since the departure of Tony Horne and Az-Zahir Hakim. Unlike many NFL teams, St. Louis uses very few starters on special teams - and the backups didn't get much done this season covering kicks and blocking for return men. The Rams finished at or near the bottom of the league in almost every major special teams category.
"I was just happy for the opportunity," Stock said. "The Rams are a great organization."
He just would have liked more of an opportunity.
"It's too bad that I couldn't have another chance," Stock said. "I don't think one year's a way to gauge, or a way to measure, or find out about what a guy can do, or what a guy can't do, either as a player or a coach."
The Rams struggled on returns and coverage most of the season, although the kickoff coverage improved in the playoffs with the return of wide receiver Mike Furrey and defensive end Erik Flowers to the coverage unit.
But there were plenty of lowlights throughout the season. The Rams' longest kickoff return of the season was a modest 31 yards by Aveion Cason. Punt returner Shaun McDonald had only five returns go for more than 10 yards.
On Nov. 21 in Buffalo, the punt returns of the Bills' Nate Clements - including an 86-yarder for a touchdown in the third quarter - helped bury the Rams.
In the critical regular-season finale, Jerricho Cotchery almost turned the game around for the New York Jets with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
But it might have been the punt coverage in the Rams' 47-17 playoff loss to Atlanta that led to Stock's dismissal. In that game, Allen Rossum of the Falcons returned three punts for an NFL-record 152 yards, including a 68-yard return for a TD late in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Fewell was reunited in Chicago with Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who was Rams defensive coordinator from 2001 through 2003. Fewell, 42, joined the Rams in 2003 after spending the previous five seasons coaching defensive backs in Jacksonville.
Under Fewell's watch, Aeneas Williams made a successful switch to safety from cornerback in 2003, earning a Pro Bowl berth. The Rams' secondary picked off 14 passes, and Jerametrius Butler emerged from fringe player status to become a solid starter.
But partly because of injuries, the play of the secondary regressed in '04. Rams defensive backs picked off only six passes during the regular season, and the Rams had trouble developing a third cornerback or backup safeties.
Martz was not pleased with the play of the secondary for much of the season. In turn, sources at Rams Park say Fewell wanted more say in calling coverages than he got under defensive coordinator Larry Marmie.
In any event, the Rams could have blocked the move, because Fewell still had a year left on his St. Louis contract.
Martz could not be reached to comment Thursday.
Furrey, Harris sign
The club announced the signing of nine players as it begins building its 80-man offseason and preseason roster: WR Mike Furrey, RB Arlen Harris, LB Drew Wahlroos, TE Mike Brake, WR Michael Coleman, RB Dusty McGrorty, QB Russ Michna, OT Matt Morgan and LB Tony Newson. All are believed to be one-year deals.
Special teams carousel
With Mike Stock's firing, the Rams' next special teams coach will be the fourth in six seasons under Mike Martz:
Rams lost 3 onside kicks, lost 4 muffed punts, lost a fumbled kickoff return and had a blocked punt return for a TD.
Bobby April - 2001-03
Rams yielded 10 special teams touchdowns while scoring only one during April's tenure.
Mike Stock - 2004
Rams finished last in kickoff coverage; 31st in punt returns and kickoff returns; and 30th in punt coverage.