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What happens next with Martz is anyone's guess
BY JEFF GORDON
STLtoday.com Sports Columnist
Mike Martz, we hardly knew you.
The Rams' innovative, unconventional head coach is done for the season. He announced he must remain home for the rest of 2005 while recovering from his heart tissue infection.
“This is very difficult for me,” Martz said. “There is a lot of guilt involved here. You feel you’ve let a lot of people down. This would really hurt if the team wasn’t in such good hands.”
Will Martz ever coach again?
We would certainly hope so, as long as he enjoys a full recovery from his current condition. Martz expects a full recovery, but that's not a complete certainly given the gravity of his ailment.
Will he ever coach the Rams again?
That’s an excellent question, since the tumult and intrigue at Rams Park continues to build. The rifts in the franchise hierarchy haven’t been repaired.
“I’m under contract,” Martz said. “Unless there is something I don’t know about, I’ll still be here. I love this place. This is our home.”
But you’ll remember that Martz pushed for a contract extension past 2006 during the offseason and came up empty. He carried his pitch to the ownership level and got swatted down again.
This season shaped up as a make-or-break campaign for Martz and, well, you saw how the season started. The team was clearly headed in the wrong direction before Mike succumbed to his unfortunate illness.
When pressed about Martz’s status Monday, Rams president John Shaw said “our No. 1 concern is Mike’s health.” He wasn’t willing to make an ironclad promise that Mike would be coaching the Rams in 2006.
“He has a contract,” Shaw said. “We expect him to coach.”
And . . .
“As I stand here today, I fully expect Mike to be the coach,” Shaw said.
But he also said the play of the Rams in Martz’s absence would be evaluated after the season. So will Martz’s health. He also suggested that negotiations for a contract extension could be a factor. In previous coaching negotiations, control of the football operation has been a factor as well.
“A number of issues could enter into play,” Shaw said.
Well, of course they could. Sunday brought the curious tale of Mad Mike at home, watching the game on TV, on the phone, trying to get a play suggestion to offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild through an intermediary.
Did president of football operations Jay Zygmunt intercept the intermediary and prevent the message from getting through? Shaw objected to that report, saying Zygmunt merely brought the intermediary to him. Shaw then made the decision “not to allow a live phone in the coaches box.”
On the heels of that episode, we got news that Martz was heading to injury reserve and Joe Vitt will finish the season as interim coach. Martz will cease calling Vitt and Fairchild for prearranged chats.
“For me to have one foot in and one foot out, is not fair to the team,” Martz said. “I have to divorce myself. I’ve been a distraction to them.”
In the short term, this decision brings welcome clarity to the Rams' situation. The players and coaches know how the season will play out.
“I’m not going to change anything we’re doing,” Vitt said. “I am what I am. We’re conducting business as usual.”
Nobody will be wondering about when Martz will return and what will happen when he does. He has been eliminated from the 2005 equation.
“This is killing Mike,” Vitt said. “He loves these players, he loves these coaches, this organization.”
But this season is Vitt’s. He can feel free to take his best shot. He can let it hang out while trying to cajole the Rams back into playoff contention. He doesn’t have to look over his shoulder or wonder how many more weeks he’ll be in charge.
There IS a heightened sense of responsibility, though, with Martz out of the picture.
“I don’t know how it could be any more heightened than the last three weeks,” Vitt said.
He, the rest of the staff and the players know what the score is. For the rest of the way, they will control their own fate. As they find things that work, they can keep doing them -– without wondering if Martz would approve.
Mike can only watch the games on TV, like the rest of us. If he has opinions on play-calling, he can phone the call-in shows or e-mail us here at STLtoday.com like the rest of you.
What will happen after this season is open to speculation. “We have not spent one second talking about what happens next year,” Shaw said.
So the soap opera continues. There is no way to predict what will happen next. We can say, with near 100 percent certainty, that future developments will be both goofy and surprising.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Martz said late in his news conference Monday. “Let’s not put me in a box, out the door.”
We would never do that. Others at Rams Park, well, we’re not so sure . . .
Re: What happens next with Martz is anyone's guessShaw then made the decision “not to allow a live phone in the coaches box.”
Shaw's a scumbag, plain and simple, and Zygmunt is right there with him.Clannie Nominee for ClanRam's Thickest Poster