Martz will miss rest of season

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams coach Mike Martz will miss the rest of the season with a bacterial infection of a heart valve that has already sidelined him for two games.

"This is very difficult for me to do," Martz said at a news conference Monday. "But I know it's the right thing to do."

Martz, who has one year remaining on his contract, expects to be back next season. He's 56-37 in his sixth season with the team, taking them to one Super Bowl and serving as offensive coordinator for the franchise's only championship after the 1999 season.

"Absolutely," he said when asked whether he would return. "Why wouldn't I be? I love this place."

Team president John Shaw also said he expects Martz to return.

"Our No. 1 concern is his health," Shaw said. "He has a contract and we expect him to coach."

Martz told the team Monday that after being examined and evaluated by his doctor, Victoria Fraser, his illness will prevent him from performing his duties. Fraser is co-chief of the division of infectious diseases at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Martz said he approached his two-week review with Fraser expecting to be cleared to return to coaching. Instead, he was told he would have to stay away from football for at least four more weeks before being able to help in a limited capacity, and his best chance for a full recovery was to sit out the rest of the season.

"She laid it out pretty good this morning," Martz said. "I was a little stunned."

The 54-year-old Martz confirmed that he has had endocarditis, an acute bacterial infection of a heart valve. He was admitted to a hospital on Sept. 30 for treatment, on Oct. 5 announced he had been sick for several weeks and that his condition prevented him from attending practice, and five days later he was readmitted to a hospital.

Joe Vitt will continue as head coach for the rest of the year for the Rams (3-4), who are at home Sunday against the Jaguars. Vitt is the assistant head coach and linebackers coach and won his first game Sunday, 28-17 over the New Orleans Saints.

"This is really Joe Vitt's team," Martz said. "I trust him completely."

Vitt said when he left the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday, the first call on his cell phone was from Martz asking him to stop by his house, where he presented Vitt with a bottle of champagne.

Martz said he'd back away completely from coaching until he's healthy. He's been in close contact with Vitt and other staff members since becoming ill, but said he will allow them freedom.

"For me to have one foot in and one foot out is not fair to the organization," Martz said. "Like I said, I'm out of here. I'm their biggest fan right now."

Before Monday, the coach had been having a difficult time staying out of the picture. On Sunday, team president John Shaw turned down Martz's request to have an open phone line in the coaching booth.

"I didn't want a live outside line, even though it was the head coach," Shaw said. "It's tough enough to coach."

Vitt can understand why Martz would have a tough time.

"When you're a football coach you just can't put this to bed," Vitt said. "Are we messed up? Yeah."

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