Wednesday, October 1, 2008
By Nick Wagoner
Apparently, Rick Venturi is losing his touch.
See, Venturi’s been down this road before, not once but twice. In his more than 25 years coaching in the National Football League, Venturi has seen and done it all.
So a coaching change in the middle of the season is nothing new. He’s been through a few, including two in which he ended up in the head coach’s seat in Indianapolis and New Orleans.
When the Rams parted ways with head coach Scott Linehan on Monday morning, it would have come as no surprise if Venturi had been named the interim coach. His experience doing it made him a solid candidate.
But when defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was promoted instead, it really didn’t make much difference. Haslett and Venturi have been joined at the hip since 2000 after first coaching together in 1996 with New Orleans.
Ask one a question and the other will likely give you the same answer. Their philosophies on defense are similar and they keep each other grounded.
Even now as Haslett has taken over as the man in charge of the Rams, Venturi has become his de facto consigliere.
“I think I have always been a guy that Jim can bounce things off of and I think I have always been a resource for him,” Venturi said. “But Jim is going to be Jim.”
In the hours after Haslett got the call in the wee hours of Monday morning, he wasted no time turning to his friend and confidant for advice.
Haslett reached out to Venturi to discuss the situation before accepting the head coaching position. That’s not to say Venturi talked him into it but it didn’t hurt to get Venturi’s stamp of approval.
“Rick and I talked a little bit about it,” Haslett said. “He said just be yourself, which I will be. I will say this, I will be myself, and I am not going to change. I promise you this, I will be myself, I am not going to change, I am going to be the same way. I will try to be tough and demanding but I enjoy coaching, we are going to have fun while we’re out there and the guys are going to play hard. That’s kind of how I am; I am not going to change.”
To say that Haslett won’t change is to say the same about Venturi. Haslett’s promotion resulted in a change of title for Venturi, who was promoted from linebackers coach/assistant head coach to defensive coordinator/assistant head coach.
The Haslett/Venturi ties are so tight though that nothing much else will change. Venturi will have to lead the defensive meetings instead of just linebackers meetings but Haslett regularly let him address the whole defense anyway.
And that task isn’t asking much from Venturi because of his vast experience as a defensive coordinator. Venturi served in that capacity for Indianapolis in 1984 and from 1991-1993, in Cleveland in 1995 and under Haslett with the Saints from 2000-2005.
Needless to say, this isn’t Venturi’s first rodeo.
“It’s basically what I have done most of my life because most of my career I have been a defensive coordinator, for the majority of my time,” Venturi said. “I’m enthused because I’m doing what I normally have done. In that respect I am looking forward to it.”
Because Haslett and Venturi think so much alike, don’t expect any kind of sweeping change to the defense. The system they run had success in New Orleans and they believe it can be successful in St. Louis.
That said; don’t expect any kind of changes to the defense in terms of basic scheme or ideals. Instead, Venturi says he has to help the defense carry over and perform the way it did in the first half against Buffalo.
The main focus to get that group to perform like that is to continue to emphasize the importance of running to the ball, maintaining assignments and doing it all for a full 60 minutes.
“The game still, no matter what your scheme is - because that is so overblown now because of electronic media, 24-hour scrutiny, genius, non genius, great scheme, out scheme – but in reality every defense at the end of the day has a one on one stress point and you either win it or you lose it,” Venturi said. “The good teams win it.”
The players aren’t expecting much to change, either. Venturi is an avid motorcycle enthusiast and has a pair that he alternates driving to the Russell Training Center along with his Mini Cooper.
Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa has worked with Venturi since Venturi’s arrival in 2006. He says you can tell a lot about what kind of day it’s going to be based on which mode of transportation Venturi chooses.
“I usually look outside and see which one is parked there so you know what kind of mood he’s in,” Tinoisamoa said. “It depends on what kind of day it is. If it’s that (BMW), it’s probably a little more chill because he likes to cruise and ride it. The Suzuki it’s a little more speed so you better not mess up or he’ll get on you.”
But the defensive players have spent enough time around Venturi and Haslett to know that not much will change with Venturi running the defense.
“It’s really the same for us because Rick and Haz have worked together in helping us get prepared,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “It’s basically the same on defense. Rick is running the show, he’s making all the calls now but basically it’s the same thing Coach Haslett did anyway.”
While there won’t be any drastic changes to the scheme other than preparation and game planning for opponents, Venturi says the tweaking of the roster and the depth chart will likely continue.
Venturi points to the addition of Clifton Ryan and Chris Draft as reasons for defensive improvements against Buffalo. He also says limiting La’Roi Glover’s snaps made him more effective and says he’s open to more change.
Venturi believes strongly that giving all of his players a defined role can make them perform better on Sundays because they are more in to the game from the beginning. One player he’d like to get more involved in safety Todd Johnson though it remains to be seen in what capacity.
“We don’t want anybody in there thinking he’s not going to have a role,” Venturi said. “I think we always try to do a good job of that so you have a role and you’re into it.”
For the rest of this season at least, Venturi’s role will be to run the defense and, if needed, keep Haslett on an even keel.
The fiery Haslett has what Venturi calls the “special” ability to rule with an iron fist but do it in a way that still maintains a good relationship with the players.
Maybe this time Venturi didn’t get the call to the top job but he might as well have because in addition to his expanded role as defensive coordinator, he’s also saddled with the task of helping Haslett remember the lessons learned from his first stint as a head coach.
Those lessons include but aren’t limited to how to deal with the day to day grind of being the head coach and navigating your way through the organizational structure and all of the details of game day decisions.
“I will remind him,” Venturi said. “And he will keep me honest too. We have a close personal and professional relationship. I think it’s kind of unique in the business. He knows damn well that I will do everything possible to help him be successful.”