Rams pull plug on Martz

Tuesday, January 3, 2006
Rams coach Mike Martz, right, watched his team play in this year's season opener, which ended in a 28-25 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Martz was fired on Monday after missing most of the season because of a heart ailment. (Associated Press file)

ST. LOUIS -- Now that Mike Martz has medical clearance to return to coaching, he'll need to find a team.

Martz was fired as coach of the St. Louis Rams on Monday after a 6-10 season in which he missed the final 11 games because of a heart ailment. That illness did not stop him from repeated clashes with the front office, the major reason for his dismissal with a year left on his contract.

Martz' physician said Sunday he could return to work. He was at Rams Park the following morning getting the news, which has been anticipated for weeks, that he would not be retained for the final year of a three-year contract.

"I guess the most compelling reason was just the direction of the team," Rams president John Shaw said. "Which is a direction that we think we need to change right now."

The Rams missed the playoffs for only the second time in six seasons under Martz under a soap opera backdrop of infighting. Martz was at odds with Jay Zygmunt, director of football operations, and Charley Armey, the general manager, all season.

The situation came to a head in October when Zygmunt denied Martz telephone access to the coaching box to discuss play-calling with offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. The next day, Martz said he didn't know if he and Zygmunt, who has been with the Rams for 24 years, could coexist professionally.

Players tried their best to tune it all out and just play.

"There's been speculation all year about it, hanging over our heads whether it was going to happen or not," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "Martz was our leader. Hearing all the rumors, it kind of bothers you."

Middle linebacker Trev Faulk learned of Martz' fate watching TV Monday morning before a team meeting.

"Personally, I've got nothing but love for coach Martz," Faulk said. "He's a great head coach and his record speaks for itself, but these things happen in the league."

Shaw hopes to hire a replacement in three or four weeks. The team has asked permission to speak to Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera and Shaw said he had other candidates on playoff teams in mind, but said there was no general profile he was seeking.

Others likely under consideration are Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

The experience of the next coach will in part determine how much control he'll be given. No college coaches are on Shaw's list.

"I have a fairly open view about this," Shaw said. "There's a wide range of candidates."

One who's not on the list is interim coach Joe Vitt, who was 4-7 after taking over for Martz. The Rams had lost six of seven, clinching their worst season since a 4-12 record in 1998, before finishing with a 20-10 victory at Detroit on Sunday night.

The team was hamstrung by more than Martz' absence given that 10 players ended the season on injured reserve, including quarterback Marc Bulger and both starting cornerbacks.

"I think Joe, really under the circumstances, did a great job for us," Shaw said. "It's just that we really don't consider him a candidate right now."

Vitt didn't seem too surprised, considering the Rams' record under his command.

"That's what presidents do, they identify who is and who isn't," Vitt said. "We hold our players responsible and accountable and I'm being held accountable, too."

Vitt said he spoke to Martz, a close friend who was ready to move on. Neither Martz nor his agent returned a telephone message from the AP.

"I think he's looking forward to this next journey, which all football coaches go through," Vitt said. "It's that time of the year, and as a football coach you always have to say your next job is going to be your best job."

Shaw planned to meet with Martz's agent, Bob LaMonte, in the next few days to discuss a settlement to the $3.25 million final year of Martz's contract.

Martz is an offensive guru who helped the Rams reach two Super Bowls in a three-year span from 1999-2001, including the team's only championship as offensive coordinator after the 1999 season. His offense, highlighted by two-time MVP Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, led the NFL in scoring three straight seasons and was dubbed the "Greatest Show on Turf."

The Rams made the playoffs last year despite going 8-8, and it all unraveled this year. The team was 2-3, beginning with a season-opening loss at San Francisco, when Martz stepped down in mid-October due to endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart valve.

Martz was 56-36, including the postseason, when he took his medical leave.

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