By Jim Thomas
Wednesday, Jan. 18 2006

Scott Linehan has reached the goal line. And unless he fumbles in his meeting
with owner-chairman Georgia Frontiere, he will be the next head coach of the

Linehan, the offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, emerged from the
second round of interviews this week as the choice of team president John Shaw
to succeed Mike Martz as the Rams' head coach.

"I think he would be our recommendation," Shaw said Wednesday night.

All that remains is for Linehan, 42, to meet with Frontiere and receive her
blessing. Linehan was believed to be en route to Frontiere's Arizona home on
Wednesday night. Could Frontiere reject the Linehan "nomination?"

It's possible, but not expected. In fact, there were reports Wednesday evening
in Minnesota, where Linehan worked with the Vikings from 2002 through 2004,
that Linehan had informed friends that he had the Rams job.

Still, with several details and some logistics to be ironed out, the Rams might
not make an official announcement until Friday.

Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera closed with a flourish, with a
strong interview Wednesday in Los Angeles that impressed Rams owner-vice
chairman Stan Kroenke, as well as Shaw and president of football operations Jay

But while Rivera was flying back to Chicago following his interview, Linehan
was headed to Arizona to meet with Frontiere.

As late as Wednesday night, many observers and some Rams coaches believed that
San Diego offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was the Rams' choice. But that
proved to be an elaborate smokescreen, either to drive down the price for
Linehan or as a favor for the Spanos family, which owns the Chargers and is
very close to Shaw.

The subterfuge worked so well that Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer began
making calls to find a new offensive coordinator.

On Wednesday night, Shaw declined to rank the three finalists.

"I think we felt that all three candidates brought something unique to the
table," Shaw said.

Since the ouster of Martz on Jan. 2, it took Shaw only 17 days to come up with
a coach, following a series of interviews in Chicago, New York, St. Louis and
Los Angeles. In all, seven candidates were interviewed in person, with an
eighth - Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt - interviewed on the
phone last week.

Cameron, Linehan, and Rivera made the cut to finalist status. What happened to
the others?

Gregg Williams, who would have been a prime candidate in St. Louis
and several other cities, was quickly taken off the market when Washington
re-signed him to a lucrative three-year contract extension to remain as
assistant head coach-defense.

Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was unimpressive in his

New York Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis was bright and glib
but seemed to lack a vision for what he would do with the team.

Fresno State head coach Pat Hill was energetic but seemed too
entrenched in the college ranks to make the leap to the NFL at this stage of
his career.

Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, the former Giants
head coach, was more of a known quantity and was viewed as a safe choice if any
of the front-runners faltered.

Whisenhunt's candidacy was done in as much by Pittsburgh's upset
victory over Indianapolis last Sunday as anything; the Rams didn't want to wait
any longer to pick their head coach.

Despite plenty of speculation to the contrary, Rams interim head
coach Joe Vitt and Kansas City offensive coordinator Al Saunders never became
serious candidates.

With the exception of Hill, Shaw avoided considering coaches who were currently
coaching in college. And with the exception of Hill, 54, and Fassel, 56, all of
the other candidates interviewed were in their 40s.

When overtures to a pair of older defensive gurus were unsuccessful -
Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, 64, and Tampa Bay defensive
coordinator Monte Kiffin, 65 - Shaw seemed to lock into bringing in a fresh
face as the team's next coach. Someone who could energize Rams Park with a
fresh approach.

The one noticeable detour on Shaw's path was away from a defensive-oriented
head coach. That was Shaw's preference going in, but Rivera was the only
defensive coordinator among the three finalists.

But it quickly became apparent that it would be easier for an
offensive-oriented coach to hire a veteran coach as his defensive coordinator,
than vice versa. The pool of potential hires as defensive coordinator include
veterans Jim Bates, Dom Capers, Ted Cottrell and Dick Jauron.

This seemed to work in Linehan's favor, and against Rivera, in the first round
of interviews. Linehan had a deep list of potential staff hires on the
defensive side of the ball. Rivera did not have an exhaustive list of potential
staff hires on the offensive side of the ball. That's one reason Linehan
emerged as the front-runner following the first round of interviews.

Following the Bears' 29-21 loss to the Panthers on Sunday, Rivera spent a lot
of time working on potential staffing - particularly on the offensive side of
the ball - in preparation for his second interview with the Rams.

Despite Rivera's impressive work in LA on Wednesday, it wasn't enough to
overtake Linehan, who has only four years of coaching experience in the NFL.