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Rams Have Changed Coach, but Style Will Remain Same


Yes, Kurt Warner stocked grocery shelves.

The path Mike Martz took to becoming coach of the defending Super Bowl champions took some twists and turns too.

Only eight years ago--at 41 and with a family to provide for--Martz was an unpaid offensive assistant on Ram Coach Chuck Knox's staff in Anaheim.

Fired in 1991 with Larry Marmie and his staff at Arizona State, where Martz had been offensive coordinator, he took the leg up Knox offered--a volunteer position with a promise to either hire him or help him find another NFL job if he did well.

"I did it all," Martz said. "I got coffee for 'em. Doughnuts. I did the statistics. Broke down film. Whatever they wanted me to do.

"It wasn't the ground floor. It was underneath that.

"But I just felt so fortunate to get that opportunity. Even as an unpaid assistant, the fact is, you're in the league."

His family stayed behind in Arizona that season until Martz earned what he was after--a paid assistant's position coaching the Ram tight ends the next year.

"Four kids. You just find a way of making it," he said.

Now Martz really has.

He went on to coach the receivers and the quarterbacks for the Rams before joining Norv Turner in Washington as the Redskins' quarterbacks coach in 1997, honing his understanding of offenses there.

Last season, he returned to the Rams as offensive coordinator, Trent Green hurt his knee, Warner took over . . .

And the rest you know: The Rams led the NFL in offense with a 400.8-yard average and scored 526 points--third most in NFL history, Marshall Faulk set an NFL record for total yards from scrimmage and Warner was named most valuable player of the Super Bowl and the season.

Two days after the game, Dick Vermeil stepped down as coach and Martz, who had been promised the job to keep him from going elsewhere, was named coach.

He is only the fifth to take over a defending Super Bowl champion.

Of those who followed the Packers' Vince Lombardi, the 49ers' Bill Walsh, the Giants' Bill Parcells and the Cowboys' Jimmy Johnson, only the 49ers' George Seifert was able to win again the next year.

Martz has a chance.

It was his offense after all--and the main cogs are back, from Warner to Faulk to the corps of warp-speed receivers.

"He's taking the same approach, we're doing the same things," Warner said. "There's a chemistry about how we react and how we play together on the football field.

"He expects perfection. I don't think there's going to be any kind of setback because of that."

Martz still calls the plays, only now from the sidelines--and in an unusual move, with offensive coordinator Bobby Jackson beside him, not in the coaches' booth.

But things aren't exactly the same under Martz as they were under Vermeil.

He put his own stamp on the staff, sweeping out some of Vermeil's assistants and bringing in four of his own.

The training camp approach changed too.

Vermeil was known for his grueling practices and long-winded, emotional speeches--although last season, he let up on the practices at the behest of some near-mutinous veterans, a move that was considered a catalyst for the Rams' run.

"Those practices were tough," linebacker Mike Jones said. "Two-and-a-half hours in the morning. Three-and-a-half in the afternoon. You'd eat, put your head down, and it was time to go to the next meeting.

"But he had a plan, and the plan worked. He wanted to find out who the guys were who would work hard, who could turn it on. He kept those guys, had some really good drafts, good free-agent pickups, and he got us to the Super Bowl."

Martz's style is a little different. He kept practices relatively short but fast-paced from the beginning, trying to force players to concentrate and practice in game-like conditions.

His practices are so up-tempo that the Rams don't run wind sprints afterward: The theory is that if they practice right, they're already in game condition.

"He's a guy who understands a professional's body," receiver Isaac Bruce said. "The thing is, there's no reason to put a guy through that if you have an off-season program."

So the Rams are the same--and different.

"His role hasn't changed," Faulk said. "I mean, he kind of conducts practice. He doesn't make pointless speeches and stuff like that.

"He lets the defensive coaches do what they do, and he addresses the team as a head coach. He's doing that in such a way that everybody respects him."

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