BY STEVE KORTE

Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat


ST. LOUIS - St. Louis Rams players are dealing with not having coach Mike Martz around the rest of the season, and the uncertainty over his future with the team.

Martz will miss the rest of the 2005 season due to endocarditis, a bacterial infection of a heart valve.

"I know the only thing coach is thinking about is that he`ll be back next year," Rams wide receiver Kevin Curtis said. "That`s the kind of guy he is. We knew on Monday night that he was probably sitting there chained down throwing stuff at TV, and he came in and said that`s basically what he did. That`s just coach, and we miss him, but we have a job to do. Just because he is not here is going to mean that we are going to stop playing and stop doing the things he taught us."

Martz has one year left on his contract, but his relationship with team management has become frayed. He has been feuding with Jay Zygmunt, the Rams` president of football operations for several months.

"We have no idea of that stuff," Curtis said. "It just goes in one ear and out the other because who knows who is talking. So far he is our head coach and he`ll be our head coach for at least another year under his contract. That`s how it is right now."

Rams cornerback Travis Fisher said he wasn`t surprised when Martz announced on Monday that he wouldn`t be back this season because he had a cousin who had endocarditis.

"I checked with my mom and she said it was very serious," said Fisher, whose cousin recovered fully from the illness.

Fisher said he expects Martz to back coaching the Rams next season.

"Yes, I do," Fisher said. "I know Coach Martz is a very strong guy, he loves the game. Personally, I love Coach as a coach, and I`m hoping he will be back."

Rams free safety Mike Furrey said Martz`s absence has left a void at Rams Park.

"It affects you a lot," Furrey said. "His persona of being around the locker room and practices is huge. He`s a guy that I have respected since I first got here. He`s helped me out throughout my career in the NFL. There`s a little extra push to play well for him for what he`s going through."

Furrey said Martz`s rift with team management was none of his concern.

"I think the players play between the lines and everything else that is upstairs is left upstairs," Furrey said. "It`s part of the business of being successful, and the politics. You just let it go at that."

Rams quarterback Jamie Martin said he has dealt with Martz`s absence by focusing on the team`s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

"I know I miss Mike," Martin said. "He`s one of the best at what he does. Working with him on a daily basis, I miss him. But I`m still here in the morning on time and sitting in the same meetings and running the same offense. >From that perspective, it doesn`t effect me that much. They`re not going to cancel it (game against the Jaguars) for us so we can get things settled with our head coach."

Rams defensive tackle Tyoka Jackson said Martz`s absence shouldn`t have an effect on how the player`s perform on the football field.

"He was our coach and our offensive coordinator," Jackson said. "It doesn`t change a thing really for our defense, and for the whole the team. You go out and you practice the way you are supposed to practice. You take care of the little things, the details that Coach Martz and any good coach talks about. Then you go out and play the game the way you are supposed to play it, with passion and attitude. Coach Martz never made a tackle on our team, and Coach (Joe) Vitt won`t either, and Coach (Steve) Fairchild won`t throw a block or pass. It`s all about the players between the white lines. It`s a players league, always has been and always will be."

Jackson also said he wasn`t fretting about whether Martz would be back with the Rams next season.

"So many people worry about the future, but the future will take care of itself," Jackson said. "I know today that Coach Martz is at home trying to get better. I have too many problems right now to worry about that. I have to figure out how to help my defense get (Jaguars quarterback) Byron Leftwich on the ground. I have to worry about how I am going to help my defense stop (Jaguars running back) Fred Taylor."