By Kathleen Nelson
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH


As a friend of Mike Martz, Joe Vitt hopes that he doesn't hear from Martz in the coming weeks. As interim coach in Martz's stead, he suspects otherwise.

"I hope he stays in the hospital and gets the treatment he needs and stays away from the game for a while," Vitt said. "But he'll probably have me on the phone three or four times a day."

Vitt, 51, was named Rams interim head coach Monday, when Martz was admitted to the hospital for treatment of an acute bacterial infection believed to be endocarditis, which attacks the heart valve. Until Monday, Vitt served as assistant head coach and linebackers coach.

After learning that Martz would be taking a leave of absence, Vitt said he spoke to Martz and tried to offer advice: "'This is about you. You get the rest you need and the proper antibiotics. We'll do our best to make sure this is a clean plate when we come back.'"

Though neither players nor coaches would admit last week that Martz's illness was a distraction, Vitt said he thought that Martz's hospitalization was good for the team as well as Martz.

"I think it's less of a distraction now," Vitt said. "I think now that our players know he's in the hospital, he's getting treatment, he's not going to come into work and then leave. I think it's a relief for all of us. He's getting the medical treatment he needs and we'll move on."

Rams President John Shaw said Vitt had the final say on the field. Vitt, however, emphasized that the offense remains in the hands of coordinator Steve Fairchild.

"Mike involves our offensive coaches every week in the game planning," Vitt said. "Steve Fairchild has done a lot of scripting in our minicamps and ... in training camp. There's a lot of moving parts. Steve is excited about the challenge. Our offensive coaches are going to blend well together, and we're going to keep on moving.

"I have nothing to do with this offense. This offense has been very good and was highly productive long before I got here."

Vitt arrived in St. Louis in January 2004 after serving on the staff of Dick Vermeil in Kansas City. His friendship with Martz dates to 1992, when they served together for three years in Los Angeles on the Rams staff of Chuck Knox. Vitt was an assistant head coach and defensive backs coach; Martz was an offensive assistant, then quarterbacks coach.

Vitt also has served as an assistant with the Seahawks, Eagles, Packers and the Baltimore Colts. Most impressively, he got his first NFL job in Baltimore shortly after graduation from nearby Towson State, and his career has flowed uninterrupted since.

After working as an assistant in the NFL for 26 years, Vitt got his first taste in the hot seat last week, when he filled in for Martz at practice Wednesday and Thursday. He continued with Martz's duties Monday, attending a news conference in the afternoon and filling in for Martz on his weekly radio show in the evening. Though he admitted to being unsure about his quotability, he gave quick, brief, snappy, thoughtful answers with a hint of an upstate New York accent from his native Syracuse.

Already, though, the extra demands have taught him, "You have to value your time. You have to be organized on the practice field, in meetings. You can't get caught up in the details."

He seems aware that the added duties will cut into his already shortened sleep cycle. He's also willing to take it on.

"I didn't sleep well last night, so we've been going 48 hours," Vitt told the audience of KLOU (103.3 FM). "This business is like an addiction. You keep coaching for the perfect game. You're constantly trying to find a way to get better. My worst day in football is better than anything else I could be doing."