By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
01/20/2006
Bryan Burwell

Late this morning at Rams Park, John Shaw probably will amble to the front of a crowded auditorium feeling like a man who has just completed one of the most vital tasks of his Rams presidency. There will be plenty of handshakes, hugs and smiles in front of all those television cameras and microphones as Shaw introduces Scott Linehan as the new head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

Shaw will feel good about himself and the job he did, sorting through the long list of prospective candidates to replace Mike Martz on the sidelines and put the Rams back in the NFL's upper echelon. He'll dazzle us with kind and complimentary words about the 42-year-old Linehan, telling us why the former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator was his guy from the start.

But sometime after all the breathless bon mots, here's what we would love to hear coming out of John Shaw's mouth:

We've only just begun.

Anyone who thinks that Shaw's work is complete just because he found a new head coach is making a terrible mistake. Linehan's hiring is merely a step in the right direction. But coaching on the field wasn't the sole reason for the Rams' dysfunction and decline.

So what else is Shaw going to do as this franchise's top executive and de facto owner to make sure the same mistakes that splintered the Martz Era won't recur during Linehan's days at the helm of this football team?

So don't tell me Shaw's work is complete. Don't tell me the dysfunction is cured simply because Martz is gone, because Martz didn't do all this by himself. He had plenty of help, and Shaw has to know that. The battle lines that were drawn between Martz and the front office need to be addressed so that the same things that drove Martz to distraction won't make Linehan - who seems to be level-headed and focused - morph into an overly sensitive and utterly paranoid Martz clone.

I'm still waiting to see and hear from Shaw what he's going to do concerning a front-office restructuring that will define the lines of power and responsibility. I'm still waiting to hear from Shaw that there will be a pro personnel department responsible for scouting and rating NFL free agents, instead of relying on the coaches. I'm still waiting for Shaw to tell me why they rely on the coaches for post-season scouting and why the college scouting relies too much on scouting services rather than on team experts. I'm still waiting on Shaw to tell me how all the problems that doomed this organization - the back stabbing, bickering and political nonsense - ruined what used to be a mighty good thing.

It's hard enough to predict success when it comes to the imprecise business of hiring a head coach in the NFL, so don't handicap Linehan with an organization that is too busy grabbing for power and control instead of working together to create championships.

I hope Linehan gets everything he needs to be a success. I hope the Rams spend the money so he can build his staff with a big-name defensive coordinator. I hope they allow him to go after the best and brightest staff he can collect, because a coach is no better than the men who work for him. I hope Linehan finds tough guys who can build discipline among the young players and trust among the older ones.

Even all that doesn't guarantee that Scott Linehan will be a success. Should we search back in NFL history for cautionary tales of how inexact this head-coach shopping can be? Jimmy Johnson was a coaching legend at the collegiate and pro level, and it was so easy to take a leap of faith and believe that his coaching progeny would certainly go forth and prosper. Yet look who has come from the Johnson coaching tree: Norv Turner and Dave Wannstedt. Bill Parcells may have produced Bill Belichick, but he also gave us Ray Handley.

The reality of this coaching business is that it is not necessarily a crap shoot, but no one has been able to come up with a formula that guarantees a method for finding uncut coaching diamond.

But there is a way to be sure that an uncut diamond will never gleam: Surround him with dysfunction. Shaw has proven he knows how to create a championship environment, but he also has proven capable of spoiling one, as well. It's on him now to prove that he knows how to re-create that Super Bowl vision.