Steve Fairchild: Making the calls
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
In a sense, Steve Fairchild has been handed the keys to the car. He certainly didn't want them under these circumstances, but they're his nonetheless.
For as long as Rams coach Mike Martz is sidelined with a bacterial infection of the heart - an ailment believed to be endocarditis - Fairchild will run the Rams' offense.
"The circumstances are not what you would want," Fairchild said Wednesday. "Every time it gets brought up, it's kind of silly to be talking about me when the real story is about Mike's health. A year from now, this will not seem as paramount, but his health certainly will be."
For as long as Martz is out of action, and it's expected to be a minimum of six weeks, someone has to run the offense. And the logical choice is Fairchild - the team's offensive coordinator since joining Martz's staff in 2003.
Since hiring him away from the Buffalo Bills, Martz has talked about eventually turning over play-calling duties to Fairchild. Before the 2004 season, Martz said he planned to let Fairchild call plays in some preseason games.
But it never happened. The Rams struggled offensively in their first two preseason games that summer, so Martz kept calling plays in an attempt to make things right.
What Martz enjoys most as a coach is game-planning and calling plays. So despite the CEO demands Martz has a head coach, it would be difficult to hand over play-calling chores to Fairchild.
"He's so good at it," Fairchild said. "When he first mentioned that to me, I thought, 'That's good.' But in some ways, he never should relinquish it. It's what he's done. He feels comfortable doing it. I'm not sure if I was ever in that role, that I'd be real comfortable giving it up, either."
Now, obviously, Martz has no choice. He is in the hospital under a doctor's order, and the earliest he can return to coaching is supposed to be late November.
So far, the work week hasn't been much different for Fairchild, 47, a native of Decatur, Ill. He's still grinding away at tape and formulating the game plan for Monday night's game in Indianapolis as he would in any other week.
In the past, Fairchild always has prepared as if he were formulating the game plan - and calling plays - and then he and Martz would compare notes.
"But probably the biggest difference is that normally Mike is there making the final call on some of the stuff," Fairchild said. "And now I'll do that."
Several times already this week, Fairchild has looked up from his desk, or the meeting room to ask: "Mike, what do you think?"
Only Martz isn't there.
"But I have talked to him on the phone a few times," Fairchild said. "'What do you think here? What do you like between these two things?' He's got some ideas."
The opportunity to work with Martz, and learn this offense, is what brought Fairchild to St. Louis after two seasons as Buffalo's running backs coach.
"The real attraction was the things Mike had done here were things that were cutting edge in the NFL," Fairchild said. "I wanted to see what that was about and learn about that. And the fact that I had known Mike, liked him as a person, and admired him as a coach.
"Now eventually, whether it was here or somewhere, I was hoping to eventually get a chance to call some plays. These aren't the good circumstances to do it. You never want this type of thing to happen to anybody."
But here we are.
Fairchild and Martz have a long association. In 1976, just three years removed from college, Martz was an assistant coach at Mesa Community College in San Diego. His quarterback there in 1976 and 1977 was Fairchild, then a scrawny lefthander.
Back in the days when 20-25 passes marked a good day's work for a college offense, Martz had Mesa throwing twice that much and using four wide receivers. It was a radical approach for the time.
"Nobody was really used to seeing one-back sets (and) teams throwing it aggressively on first and second down," Fairchild said. "It was fun. You were doing things nobody else was doing, and it was working. I'm sure that was cool for Mike. It certainly was cool for the guys that played for him."
After two record-setting seasons at Mesa, Fairchild signed with Colorado State, where - small world - Charley Armey was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
"Steve had all the attributes you're looking for," said Armey, now the Rams' general manager. "He was smart. You could see on tape he got rid of the ball quick. And didn't make mental mistakes.
"Once I flew out and spent time with him during the recruiting process, it was obvious to me that he knew an awful lot about the passing game. And I would attribute a lot of that to Mike Martz, who was his coach at the time. It didn't take me five minutes to realize that he was way ahead of the game for most junior-college kids."
As a player, Fairchild was low-key, highly intelligent, but very competitive. He was able to identify and exploit the weaknesses in defenses. Those attributes have transferred over to Fairchild's coaching career.
"I knew he would be successful as a coach if he went in that direction," Armey said. "The thing I like about him more than probably anything else is he's a thinking man's coach and he's extremely loyal to the people he's working with and to the players."
Until joining the Bills in 2001, Fairchild had spent his entire coaching career in the college ranks: at Mesa; Ferris State; San Diego State; New Mexico; and Colorado State. For the majority of that time in the college ranks, Fairchild ran the offense and called the plays. Now, he gets to do it in the NFL.
"It's different in every job because the system that you're in is different and so forth," Fairchild said. "But overall, it's just play-calling. I've done it. And it'll be kind of interesting to do it again, I think."
In St. Louis, Fairchild gradually has been given more responsibility. He has scripted plays for practice in minicamps and OTAs (organized team activity) in the spring. He frequently runs offensive staff meetings when Martz has to be somewhere else.
"It seems as each day goes by, Mike can step out a little further and that's helped him as a head football coach," Fairchild said. "It's tough when he's doing two things. So that's kind of the role I've had here. Just to take whatever he will relinquish and try to do it well so he feels good about it.
"This is Mike's show. Mike's the guy. You do what you can do."
Re: Steve Fairchild: Making the calls
Hey, I went to Mesa; does that mean I can be the D coordinator? :)
Fairchild and Martz have a long association. In 1976, just three years removed from college, Martz was an assistant coach at Mesa Community College in San Diego. His quarterback there in 1976 and 1977 was Fairchild, then a scrawny left hander.
Re: Steve Fairchild: Making the calls
Come on, Mr. Steve ... let's dial up the right calls! :football:
On the other hand, it must be so difficult for Coach Martz to be absent from the practice sessions and, particularly, from game day!
Get well dear friend.