The many faces of Martz

Sunday, January 27, 2002

ST. LOUIS

hough Mike Martz fears no NFL defense, the St. Louis Rams coach doesn't always get the genius treatment. Just look at Buddy, the fickle family dachshund.

All season, Martz complained that his wife and daughter were the only ones who could get any love from Buddy -- until the Rams clinched the NFC West in late December. Only then did the dog hop into Martz's lap.

"He's aware, there's no question about the little mutt," Martz said. "We make the playoffs, and he's my Buddy again."

That's the humble, self-deprecating Martz, the guy most people don't see. The one they do see is supremely confident that no one can stop his wide-open offense, ranked No. 1 in the NFL three straight years. As he's said countless times, the only team that can stop the Rams is the Rams.

Martz wears cocky well.

"Anybody in the NFL has to have some sort of arrogance and some sort of macho about him to be successful," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "We feel we are a reflection of our head coach, so if he's arrogant ..."

Then again, it was a 26-year climb before the Rams elevated him from offensive coordinator to head coach in 2000, so he's a little new to this top-of-the-world feeling.

Linebacker Don Davis played for the Bucs last year and didn't like the aura Martz projected one bit.

"I kind of thought he was arrogant and had that swagger," Davis said. "When you're on the other side, you kind of resent it. But it's a confidence he has, and I love it."

Martz can be ruthless, abruptly dumping backup quarterback Joe Germaine after an inept preseason performance. He can be loyal, ignoring criticism and leaving fumble-prone punt returner Az-Zahir Hakim on the job a few weeks longer before finally making a change. He can be warm and fuzzy, reminiscing about grooving to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" on the 8-track player on his first car.

He also trades trash talk with his players. Defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina revels in teasing the boss.

"He's the head guy," Zgonina said. "How many times do you get a shot at the head guy in a joke?"

Mostly, he knows how to move the football. The Rams, plain vanilla during Dick Vermeil's first two seasons as head coach, have been unstoppable since Martz was hired in 2000.

The team rode its attack to the franchise's first Super Bowl victory in the 1999 season, and is a double-digit favorite to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday and make a second Super Bowl appearance in three years.

St. Louis is the first team to score 500 points three straight seasons. Kurt Warner threw for 4,830 yards, second most in NFL history. Marshall Faulk is the AP Offensive Player of the Year the last three years.

"When you have the greatest show on Earth," Davis said, "you can have that swagger."

That swagger sneaks out from time to time when trash talk from opponents is hurled Martz's way. Martz has been known to return fire in a millisecond:

  • After a Dolphins defender's offhand remark about locking the Dome at America's Center, Martz made plaques for the players: Key to the Dome.

    New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn mentioned that the Rams have an impatient offense. Martz shot back: "Who cares? Think I need to worry about what Jason Sehorn thinks? We just keep running by Jason, that's all I know."

    He's also been known to make the first strike.

    The Rams (15-2) ran past everybody this year, winning by an average of 31-17. Warner passed for an average of 300 yards per game, yet almost never came out, no matter how big the lead. Backup Jamie Martin threw three passes all season and has learned from experience not to get his hopes up.

    "You can't second-guess him," Martin said with a shrug. "That's just his mindset. "He's so aggressive and he goes for the jugular and doesn't let up."

    In the third quarter against the Jets, the Rams, leading 31-7, recovered an onside kick.

    That did not exactly endear Martz to the NFL coaching fraternity, although he's not quite Darth Vader, either. There is a softer side _ he called for kneel-downs instead of touchdowns at the end of close victories against the 49ers and Patriots.

    "I know Mike and I like Mike," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He is a good person and good football coach. I've looked at his system he runs and I like it and the things he does are very creative."

    Another example the ego is not at all out of control: Martz encourages game plan suggestions from Kurt Warner every week.

    "He gives me a lot of input to say my mind and say, 'Maybe this, maybe that,'" Warner said. "Sometimes he says 'no thanks' and sometimes we put some things in or we change things a little bit.

    "He's a guy that takes the philosophy that I'm the guy out there running it and he wants me to be comfortable with everything he puts in."

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