Monday, September 29, 2008

Bye Bye Liney Hello Haslett

Rams fire Linehan; D-coordinator Haslett tapped as interim coach

ST. LOUIS -- After experiencing the wild highs and lows of the Mike Martz years, the winless St. Louis Rams opted for cool, calm, reserved Scott Linehan as their next coach.

On Monday, they admitted their mistake and fired Linehan after four consecutive lopsided losses to open the season. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, a fiery type and polar opposite in terms of demeanor, was hired as interim coach, given the unenviable task of trying to revive a franchise that has become an NFL doormat.

The Rams have lost 17 of their last 20 games, most of them routs. But no matter how dire the situation appears, Haslett said it'll never be as bad as in his final season as head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"This is nothing," Haslett said, "compared to that."

Linehan, 45, was 11-25 in the third season of a four-year contract that paid him about $8 million. The Rams have been outscored 147-43 this season, and have allowed at least 30 points in seven straight games dating back to last year.

The move was made heading into the Rams' bye week and in the early morning hours Monday, several hours after the Buffalo Bills outscored them 25-0 in the second half of a 31-14 victory.

The Rams were 3-13 in 2007 and have lost eight in a row dating to last season. Dissension had been building after unsuccessful stabs by Linehan at a makeover: several new assistants; a remote training camp site; a higher-energy, upbeat delivery by the coach to project confidence and enthusiasm.

Linehan turned to desperation after the Rams were outscored 116-29 the first three games. Quarterback Marc Bulger, the highest-paid player in franchise history, was benched in favor of 38-year-old Trent Green. Starting cornerback Fakhir Brown, a Haslett favorite, was released and there were four other lineup changes.

Running back Steven Jackson ripped Linehan on his weekly radio show for benching Bulger, and there were reports Bulger no longer wanted to play for Linehan. Bulger has not spoken to media since the benching.

"He took 100 percent responsibility for the failures of this organization, but we're all culpable," owner Chip Rosenbloom said. "We all share in the responsibilities of losing games. That includes the coaches, it includes the players, it includes the administration, it includes the ownership."

That hints at more changes coming down the line. Jay Zygmunt, president of football operations and in his 27th year with the team, is drawing heat for poor draft-day performances. President John Shaw, who spends much of his time on the West Coast, is contemplating retirement after the season.

A sign at Sunday's home game read: "Congress. Now bail out the Rams."

Linehan briefly addressed players for about 10 minutes Monday morning before driving away from Rams Park without speaking to reporters or even making eye contact.

"He just told us that we're winners," said rookie defensive end Chris Long, Linehan's last first-round pick. "We're not winning right now, but there's winners in the room.

"He's going to do well, he's going to find a place where it's going right."

Given the Rams' weak play on defense, the 52-year-old Haslett is an unusual choice on the surface. He has head coaching experience, winning 45 games in six seasons for the Saints from 2000-05, but the defense is ranked 31st out of 32 teams despite a pair of young first-rounders, Long and Adam Carriker, on the line.

Typically blunt, the former NFL linebacker is far from pleased.

"Come on, the first three games we played poorly," Haslett said. "I thought we played pretty good yesterday. It's something we can build on."

Haslett was in bed when Rosenbloom telephoned at 1:15 a.m. Monday to offer the job, including a say in personnel matters. He expects to do a much better job in his second head coaching stint, and will be less secretive, too, opening practices to media. Rick Venturi, assistant head coach and linebackers coach, was elevated to defensive coordinator.

Haslett will convene his first team meeting Tuesday. He wants to discuss matters with the coaching staff before choosing a quarterback for the Rams' next game, Oct. 12 at Washington, and would like to re-sign Brown.

Haslett said the Rams' talent is comparable to that of the Bills, who are 4-0.

"They have a couple of things we don't have right now," Haslett said. "They've got great confidence, they've got great swagger, they've got poise and they think they can win. Right now we're not at that level."

The Linehan era will be remembered as a mostly dreary time for the franchise. Martz helped the Rams win their only Super Bowl after the 1999 season and then led them to a second Super Bowl as coach in the 2001 season with an offense known as the "Greatest Show on Turf."

The Rams were 8-8 in 2006, Linehan's first season, rallying to win four of their last six games after Linehan turned over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Greg Olson. Numerous offensive line injuries, beginning with seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace's season-ending shoulder injury in the opener, paved the way for the 2007 disaster. Linehan again relinquished the play-calling before this season, replacing Olson with Al Saunders.

He knew his job was in jeopardy Sunday, having been put on notice by Rosenbloom. So he emptied the playbook, going for first downs twice on fourth down and using a handful of trick plays, energizing the team, but only for one half, when it led 14-6.

The firing was the second in-season coaching change by the Rams this decade. Martz was replaced by interim coach Joe Vitt after five games in 2005 due to medical reasons, and then was fired the day after the season.

The last Rams coach removed during the season for non-medical reasons was Bob Waterfield, replaced by Harland Svare after eight games in 1962 when the franchise was in Los Angeles.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

Monday, September 15, 2008

Still-angry Linehan: “I’m scared to death to lose”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It wasn’t quite as dramatic as Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteeing victory over the heavily favored Colts in Super Bowl III. But Scott Linehan was adamant that his downtrodden, 0-2 crew would bounce back Sunday in Seattle.

“I’m not making any guarantees; you can call it what it is,” Linehan said Monday at his weekly day-after gathering with reporters. “But in my mind, we’re going to beat Seattle and we’re going to right this ship. Because we don’t have a choice. I don’t have a choice, and neither does anybody else around here.”

Linehan was responding to a question about whether he was concerned about his job security. Here’s the rest of his answer:

“I’ve been concerned about my job security since I started coaching. I’m scared to death to lose. If you lose, you worry about everything. For most of my career, that’s been a positive thing. At this point, we’re not winning enough games. So when you don’t win games, people are going to want the head coach’s head; it’s the way it works. I’ve told you that from the beginning. I’ve accepted that only as part of the job, but not as part of where we’re going.”

Obviously angry in his post-game interview after the 41-13 loss to the Giants, Linehan had plenty of fire still raging Monday afternoon. Here are some more excerpts:

*On the Rams failing to “finish” games:

“Two years ago, we finished games great. Our fourth-quarter scoring and production was outstanding. Last year it was bad, and this year it’s not much better. . . . Over the last six months, we’ve done nothing but try to make adjustments and improvements. We have a new offensive system, we’ve got new defensive players, we’ve got some adjustments we’ve made within the (coaching) staff, and we’ve got a few new offensive players.

“That’s all fine and dandy, but we’ve got to go out there and turn whatever those adjustments were into positive plays and positive drives and positive finishes to the fourth quarter. Right now, that’s not happening.”

*On the defense giving up a six-play, 82-yard TD drive after the Rams made it 20-13 early in the fourth period:

“To be in a position where, bang, we finally get something going offensively when we get the touchdown with Torry (Holt) — great play, one of the best catches I’ve ever seen. To a special-teams play, bang, you have another great play (a jarring tackle by Chris Draft on the 18-yard line on the subsequent kickoff). Now it’s 20-13 and you’re really in a position where defensively, you can go out and sack the quarterback, pick off a ball, go three-and-out, and all of a sudden now it’s a one-score game and you’re playing at home and the place is going nuts.

“That’s where we were. We were in a position where we could’ve just taken that game over right then and there. And instead . . . we went back to where we were — down two scores and the clock running out.”

*On possible lineup changes this week:

“Yeah, I think so. Whether we do them or not remains to be seen as we go through the week. But there could be some adjustments to the lineup, for sure.”

*On other possible changes:

“I’ll tell you what: we could flip-flop, practice at midnight and sleep during the day. We could eat baloney sandwiches on Wednesday, penalize the team for not playing very good. We could try all that stuff. But the bottom line is how we play on Sunday and what we do when we get in those moments in the game that are going to decide our fate. That’s really nothing else you can do.”

Monday, September 8, 2008

Losing is one thing; not trying is another


PHILADELPHIA — And with the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, the St. Louis Rams select ...

The thought came to mind early during Sunday's embarrassing 38-3 wipeout of all things Ram by the fierce Philadelphia Eagles. A loss was expected. But the Rams' failure to compete was stunning.

I don't understand how a team can prepare for months to play its first football game, only to emerge from the locker room looking like dead men walking.

No heart, no guts, no pulse ... nothing.

"To me, and I've been around here 10 years, and this is the most talented team I've ever been around as far as pure talent," defensive end Leonard Little said. "But we've got to find a way to take it to the field. And show more on the field. We needed to come out and win this game. And we'd better win right away and get on the right track, because we don't want to go down that same road that we took last year."

It was an appalling afternoon for a franchise that went 3-13 last season.

And it didn't take long for negative thoughts to metastasize.

Unless the Rams respond with a passionate statement about their competitiveness on Sunday when the New York Giants come to The Ed, how much longer will head coach Scott Linehan be able to keep his job?

Are the players trying to get Linehan fired?

How else do we interpret the dive we saw them take in Philadelphia?

Rams ownership and management are steadfast in their support of Linehan, but can the people upstairs at Rams Park really sit idly and throw another season away? Do the bosses want to destroy the remainder of a deteriorating fan base?

And how much longer can Linehan afford to stick with Marc Bulger at quarterback? From the beginning Sunday, the Eagles got into Bulger's head. He threw off his back foot, or hop-scotching around with a nervous pitter-patter of feet. His passes had no authority. Bulger is clearly carrying the scars of last season's assault to the body and psyche.

I'm not saying Bulger is the only problem. Far from it. But a quarterback plays a large part in forming a team's collective soul. And there is no confidence to Bulger's game.

After being punished by the Eagles for four sacks, at least Bulger was able to stand up after the game and take responsibility.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, but I realize it starts with me," he said. "When the quarterback doesn't play well, the rest of your offense won't. If there's No. 1 blame it should start here."

Bulger cares. He's just battered. But the postgame scene in the Rams locker room was disturbing. There was chatter, shrugs, even some laughter. I saw little to suggest that this team was disgusted or even bothered by a 35-point whipping. I've been covering NFL games since 1982, and I've never seen such a carefree locker room in the aftermath of such a humiliating defeat.

A performance like this should have ignited this team's pride and professionalism. But the Rams didn't fight during the game, and they were hardly fighting mad after the game.

Gee, wasn't that swell to see running back Steven Jackson chuckling and yapping with the Eagles on the field after the game?

Symbolic message: This was just another payday for the same old Rams.

And that attitude is unacceptable. Linehan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett didn't have their men ready to play, and the highly anticipated rollout of offensive coordinator Al Saunders' new attack was a bust.

What went down Sunday was a terrible reflection on all of the Rams' coaches. And the criticism of the staff is warranted.

But don't give the players a free pass. There's no excuse for coming out with a flat-line response in the first game of a brand new season. I don't care if the players dislike Linehan. They owe an honest effort to each other, and their customers. Linehan may not be much of a motivator, but that doesn't mean the players should be allowed to steal game checks in the form of a sorry, no-account, tank job.

"We have to find that magic, whatever it is, that's going to get us a momentum roll," Linehan said. "And we have not. We've built very good chemistry as a group, but we've got to build chemistry as a team playing. And I told them at halftime, 'Someone's got to make a play to create the confidence that you need to have.' Because it's about making plays in this league, and Philadelphia made all the plays today. We didn't make any."

Who will lead the Rams back?

Or does anyone even care?