Credit Mad Mike with a big assist in Lovie's development
By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
The National Football League has made historic progress.
Not only are two African-American coaches squaring off in the Super Bowl for the first time, but another fresh face like Mike Tomlin is getting his head coaching opportunity.
This should have a domino effect in the coaching ranks, creating more opportunities for African-American coaching prospects at every level. This progress will make the leadership of this sport far more diversified.
The NFL’s “Rooney Rule” forces teams to interview minority candidates. But this directive doesn’t force team executives to operate with an open mind.
Individuals like Mike Martz further this cause while giving capable coaching candidates their break.
Mad Mike wasn’t a crusader. He didn’t follow a social agenda while assembling his coaching staff. He was just an offensively oriented head coach who needed a strong defensive coordinator.
He looked across the NFL for the best man for the job. He hired Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebackers coach Lovie Smith, a former colleague at Arizona State, and trusted him with a big assignment.
He knew Smith had tremendous leadership potential. He knew that Smith had paid his dues, perfecting his craft in a number of successful programs. He admired the Buccaneers defense and, therefore, the work of Tony Dungy and his coaching staff.
Lovie appeared ready to make the jump.
“He’s a good friend, but really and truly I have a lot of friends out there who I may or may not hire,” Martz said during his first training camp with Lovie aboard. “Smith is a guy who I have always admired as one of the best coaches I’ve been around for lots of reasons — his character, his ability to communicate with players, his work ethic . . . in my opinion, he’s going to be a head coach.”
Martz allowed Smith to coordinate. He gave him coaching freedom and allowed him to guide the team’s personnel decisions on the defensive side of the ball.
When Smith managed to shore up a feckless Rams defense, Martz praised him effusively. Lovie isn’t much of a self-promoter, so Martz took care of that for him.
Some coaches hide their assistant coaches, even their coordinators, from the media. Some head coaches want all the news and analysis to come from them. Some head coaches are paranoid control freaks.
Martz allowed Smith to build rapport with reporters, to explain his philosophies and his decision-making process. Mad Mike's ego is quite healthy, even by NFL standards, but he didn’t allow it to eclipse Smith’s professional development during his three seasons in St. Louis.
Mad Mike didn’t want to lose Smith as defensive coordinator, given the huge role he played in the Rams’ success. But he talked him up as a candidate when other teams began their coaching search.
Again and again and again from the podium at Rams Park, Martz told the world that Smith would become an excellent head coach.
And guess what? Smith did just that.
“I'm excited for Lovie, and I'm also excited for the Bears' organization,” Martz said after Smith went to Chicago. “I'm not sure they fully realize the quality individual and the professional they are getting. They will soon realize that and fully appreciate it.”
Yes, they did.
Lovie’s exit to Chicago proved to be Martz’s undoing, since it ushered in the unfortunate Larry Marmie Era on defense. The Rams’ subsequent struggle led to all sorts of issues, including Martz’s health problems, his estrangement from team executive Jay Zygmunt and his departure as coach.
Now Martz is offensive coordinator for the hapless Detroit Lions and Smith is coaching in the Super Bowl. That is the way the coaching wheel turns.
But as long as coaches like Martz keep an eye on the up-and-coming coaches -– and extend opportunities to promising candidates from all backgrounds -– the profession will move forward.
Re: Credit Mad Mike with a big assist in Lovie's development
has martz ever hired anyone that wasnt a friend from arizona state?