St. Louis Dispatch Articles, 3rd set...and The Cow...

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Some GOOD Articles in the St. Louis Post Dispatch...the MOST negative is the last one I read in Dispatch...from The Cow...I attached it last.(continued)

Mike Martz: The NFL's lightning rod
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
09/11/2004

Mike Martz's electric approach and questionable moves spark praise as well as criticism.

One on-line betting service lists odds of 8-1 that he will be the first head coach fired this season in the NFL. Only five other head coaches in the 32-team National Football League have shorter odds.

Then, there was the poll this summer by the New York Daily News. A dozen team executives were asked to rank the top 10 head coaches in the NFL. The coach in question, Mr. 8-1, didn't receive a vote. Not one.

Obviously we're talking about a modern day Ray Handley. Or Dave Shula. (Dave, not Hall of Fame father Don Shula.) Someone with the won-loss record of a Joe Bugel or Dave Campo.

No, actually this coach has guided his team to three playoff berths in four seasons. He took his team to the Super Bowl three seasons ago. And with a 43-21 record, he's tied for the fourth-best winning percentage all-time among NFL coaches with a minimum 50 regular-season games.

If you haven't guessed by now, we're talking about St. Louis' own Mike Martz, a k a Mad Mike. As he enters his fifth season as Rams head coach, Martz remains as much a lightning rod as ever. Some love him. Some don't. No one, it seems, is neutral on the subject.

"The star of this show is Mike Martz," said Terry Bradshaw, the Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox television analyst. "If I were coming out of college, and someone said, 'You can go play for Coach Martz, or you can go play for Coach (Coughlin) with the Giants.' Then, I'd walk to St. Louis to play for this guy, so I can learn from him. Because I know he is going to teach me the best offense there is in the National Football League. And I know that if I listen and I learn, we can win. And I know I'm going to play well."

Talk to people around the league - those who have played in it, scouted in it, coached in it, or cover it for a living - and no one disputes Martz's offensive mind.

"He knows Xs and Os," said Russ Lande, a former college scout with the Cleveland Browns, and one-time Rams scouting assistant who now publishes the "GM Jr." draft publications. "He can outdo almost anybody in terms of creating a matchup weakness, or exploiting a guy that's hurt and maybe trying to hide that injury, or whatever it may be. He's brilliant at that stuff."

But others give him low marks for game management.

"I don't think he manages games well," says Ira Miller, longtime San Francisco Chronicle football writer and past president of the Pro Football Writers of America. "I don't think he pays enough attention to detail. Didn't the Rams lead the league in turnovers over the last three years? The timeouts. The replay challenges. All the things we've seen."

All in all, there isn't a head coach in the NFL whose coaching - and coaching style - spark such wide-ranging discussion as Martz.

Offensive guru
"I don't use this term loosely, but I view him as a brilliant offensive coach, and a brilliant offensive mind," said Merril Hoge, ESPN football analyst and former Steelers running back. "I just like the fact that he's going to line up, and he's going to design ways to attack you. And they're not by chance; they're by design.

"Like Mike's theory with the passing game. You don't see a hard 15-yard comeback route with him. You know why? You can't score a touchdown on a comeback. That type of approach I like."

Hoge says he looks at more than 30 hours of tape a week to prepare for his weekly NFL matchup show. He talks to several NFL coaches, including Martz, on a weekly basis during the season.

"I get a feel for when a coach is dialed in on an opponent," Hoges said. "And Mike, boy, he's right there with the best of them. I know in the offseason, a lot of people look at the Rams' offense to see how he's running it, the combination of the routes."

In the NFL, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Martz-style offenses are starting to spring up around the league - including Kansas City and Chicago.

"I don't think he gets the credit he deserves for being an offensive innovator," says Pete Prisco, NFL writer for CBS Sportsline.com

The innovation part isn't just a matter of Xs and Os, either. It's Martz's approach.

"He's aggressive. He's ruthless," said ESPN analyst Joe Theismann, a former Pro Bowl quarterback for the Washington Redskins. "Mike is basically a gunslinger. Mike wants to take chances. Mike wants to go down the field. ... Mike never calls a play to sort of get you ready for another play. Mike is out there trying to put points on the board right now with this play."

QB mentor
Some detractors point to the abundance of offensive talent that Martz has to work with, and say anybody can win with that group. But in truth, nobody wanted Kurt Warner - remember? Even the Rams put him on their available list for the Cleveland Browns' expansion draft in 1998.

Trent Green was an eighth-round draft pick by San Diego in 1993 - 221 players were selected before Green that year. Marc Bulger was a sixth-round draft pick by New Orleans in 2000 - 167 players were drafted before him that year. Green (with Kansas City), and Bulger were in the Pro Bowl last year. Warner is a two-time NFL MVP.

"There's no coach in football who can take quarterbacks that nobody else believes in, or thinks can be good, and sees something in them and turns them around like Mike," said ESPN's John Clayton.

"There are people in the league who were defiant that Marc Bulger would not be able to succeed in this league. They just didn't think he was good enough. And he goes to the Pro Bowl and goes MVP in the Pro Bowl."

Speaking of Warner, Clayton said, "To take somebody that's nothing off the street and turn him into a $6 million (a year) commodity is just rare.

"So say what you want, but here he is, he's now changed three quarterbacks. Green, Warner, and Bulger. And still has the team on a playoff level. And maybe not this year, but (usually) in the hunt for a Super Bowl."

The QB mentoring has not gone unnoticed around the league. Who's next?

"Three, four years from now it could be (Jeff) Smoker," Lande said. "If he can keep his nose clean, Smoker will get a chance."

Many observers also are aware that the Rams have been in a transition stage the past couple of seasons. Warner is gone. Faulk is aging. And many very good players and solid role players ... Az-Zahir Hakim, Ricky Proehl, Grant Wistrom, London Fletcher, etc., ... have gone elsewhere via free agency.

"When you look at it, it's remarkable that he's been able to seamlessly bring in this quarterback and keep the offense running at a high level," Lande said. "And now, they're going to have (running back) Steven Jackson - hopefully, by the end of the year, he'll be the guy and Faulk will be the backup."

Theismann adds: "Mike has the ability to adapt. He lost Az Hakim. He adapted. Marshall didn't play as much last year. He adapted. I think Steven Jackson gives him that kind of transition when ultimately you're going to see Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Steven Jackson, Marc Bulger - the offense, basically, of this football team, the scoring part of it is intact."

Game management or mismanagement?
But for all those positives, watching Martz burn timeouts like autumn leaves, or challenging everything but the dance routines of the Rams cheerleaders, can be exasperating.

Theismann says there are times after broadcasting Rams games that he'd like to stay over on Monday just to ask Martz questions - lots of questions - about why he did certain things.

Miller says: "If he could just be better at game managing, he might be a hell of a coach. I like Martz. He speaks his mind. He's innovative and aggressive and all that - except in those closing seconds against Carolina.

"But these are things that you've got to be able to do ... managing the game on Sunday. The games are all so close."

Prisco adds: "Heck, the other day, he didn't even know what the score of the game was."

That was a reference to the Rams' exhibition finale, against Oakland. Trailing 28-24 in the final minute, Martz orchestrated the Rams' last-ditch drive thinking the team was down by a field goal instead of four points. Honest to a fault, Martz volunteered this information to reporters after the game.

Martz can also be unconventional to a fault, which is why his decision not to go for a touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation in last season's playoff loss to Carolina still is mind-boggling to some.

"It really seems to me that he plays a lot by what he's feeling right at the moment," Lande said. "He doesn't always go right by the book, which I think is what the media and the NFL in general expects.

"He's sort of different in that respect. If he feels something, he's going to try it, whether it's just in the flow of the game or if he feels a guy is hot. To me, that's probably why he's looked at as, 'Wow, he's doing some weird things.' He just goes with what he feels, which I think, in a lot of respects can be good. It catches people off guard."

Including those watching.

"It's just part of the fun of Mike Martz," Clayton says. "You know he's going to be so different in doing all those things. He just seems to have a different philosophy than anybody else."

Those who know Martz best say he continues to grow into the job, and evolve as a head coach.

"I think he's sort of learning to keep things in proper perspective and prioritize what to get upset about and what not to get upset about," Kansas City and former Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. " He's a very, very intense guy. And a great football coach. But you can wear yourself out, like I have done in the past."

For some Martz bashers growing into the job is not enough. And never will be. Not since Martz got the short end of the straw against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI. These days, Belichick is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the NFL - if not the best. But as Miller points out, "Ten years ago, everybody thought Belichick was a dolt."

Belichick was 37-45 in his first head-coaching job, with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95.

Reporter Jim Thomas
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 314-340-8197
Josh McCown: In The Spotlight
By Lori Shontz
Of the Post-Dispatch
09/12/2004

Josh McCown has emerged from tiny Sam Houston State to a starting QB job in the NFL.

The way Josh McCown tells it, kids growing up in the eastern Texas town of Jacksonville - "home of World Famous Tomatoes, Prosperous Plastics Manufacturers and a Multi-Million Dollar Bedding Plant Industry," according to the chamber of commerce's Web site - don't have a lot of choices.

"There's not a whole lot to do in my hometown," he said. "You throw the football or work."

Or, in the case of McCown, you do both. That's how, in the space of just four seasons, he has transformed himself from a college player who transferred to Division I-AA Sam Houston State to a third-round NFL draft choice to Sunday's role, starting quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals.

"He's following a tradition in the NFC West," Cardinals coach Dennis Green said. "You don't have to be a bonus baby No. 1 pick to do well."

That's coming from someone who had a chance to get one of those bonus babies. The Cardinals had the third pick in the NFL draft and obviously could have wound up with one of the top-rated quarterbacks - if not Eli Manning, then perhaps Ben Roethlisberger.

Green decided to stick with McCown, who started three games last season and is best known for his 28-yard touchdown pass to Nate Poole to beat the Minnesota Vikings - and keep them out of they playoffs - on the final play of the season finale. He pronounced McCown "more ready to play" than a quarterback with no NFL experienced and cited Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, a sixth-round draft pick, as an example he believes McCown can follow. That's why Green released veteran Jeff Blake, refused to draft a quarterback and then opted not to sign any experienced free agents after the draft.

McCown attracted attention as a late replacement for Joey Harrington at the 2002 Senior Bowl based on his strong senior season - 4,022 passing yards, 34 touchdowns - at San Houston State.

After three frustrating seasons at SMU, he transferred to Division I-AA Sam Houston State. Unlike many such players, playing time wasn't the issue. He wanted to win.

Sam Houston coach Ron Randleman saw McCown's drive right away.

"He'd sit in on all the meetings," Randleman said. "Extra stuff with the offensive coordinator and me - he'd be in there for the planning sessions."

Although Randleman always had told players they were welcome at such sessions, McCown was the first to accept the invitation. Eventually, he moved the starting quarterback to wide receiver to make room for McCown, who had planned to redshirt.

The move paid off as McCown led Sam Houston to its first-ever playoff victory, a 34-31 win over Northern Arizona. He made the key play, a 58-yard pass under pressure with 32 seconds remaining, to set up the winning field goal.

The move didn't work out so well for one person - Sam Houston State's basketball coach, who had lobbied the football coaches to redshirt McCown so he could play both sports a year later.

One doesn't have to rely on anecdotes to learn of McCown's athletic skill. Plenty of evidence exists from the 2002 combines.

According to a Pro Football Weekly article in the spring of 2002, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 - only .01 seconds slower than Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. He warmed up for the vertical jump by side-hopping over a five-foot high barrier in the RCA Dome, then returning to his starting place.

"Other quarterbacks dropped their heads," the article said, adding that no one was surprised that McCown's vertical leap, 38.5 inches, was the best of any quarterback.

Having watched plenty of film, Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson believes that those abilities make McCown a better quarterback when he's able to run.

"He's got courage," Jackson said. "A lot of quarterbacks are timid - they're running the ball at the first opportunity, but they're looking to get down on the ground. He's always looking for the first-down marker. He'll launch himself."

Reporter Lori Shontz
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 314-340-8205
...and now The Cow.
View From Arizona: Things look blue for the Big Red
BY PAOLA BOIVIN
Arizona Republic
09/12/2004

New Arizona head coach Dennis Green faces a big rebuilding job.

We've grown accustomed to our feathered vertebrate's peculiarities. Only in Arizona can a Cardinal lay a goose egg and behave like an opossum (play dead at home and get killed on the road).

If the preseason is any indication, those crazy nonconformists are at it again. They're rebelling against playing good football. As coach Dennis Green said after a preseason loss to San Diego, "It was an effort that was not good on offense, defense or special teams."

Other than that ...

For those Cardinals fans in need of overbelievers anonymous, we offer Step 1 of a 12-step program to cure the misguided belief that the team will be better this year: Admit that you are powerless over this team, that your life has become unmanageable.

In other words, root them on to an 0-16 record.

Seriously. Imagine the possibilities. The No. 1 draft pick next year. Exposure on "SportsCenter."

"Well, we prefer highlights. To run lowlights, it has to be pretty low, which obviously the Cardinals sometimes can be," said a smiling Josh Bernstein, the coordinating producer for ESPN's "SportsCenter."

An unimpressive preseason, significant injuries and a tough schedule suggest the Cardinals could hit a new low in futility. We're not saying the 0-14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976, but maybe the 2001 Detroit Lions (2-14). The 2002 Cincinnati Bengals (2-14)?

Do I hear the New Orleans Saints, anyone?

"I wish it on no one," said Archie Manning, the quarterback of many of the Saints teams that struggled in the 1970s. "From Sunday night to kickoff the next Sunday, the week seemed like a month."

It's hard to remain optimistic with these troubling signs from the Cardinals:

Ross Kolodziej, slated to start at defensive tackle until just a few days ago, hasn't played in a game since Dec. 8 ... 2002.

Defensive end Peppi Zellner was unemployed this summer until the Raiders signed him Aug. 17. Now he's a Cardinals starter.

The starting offense's first touchdown came in the third quarter ... of the third game.

For what it's worth, the '76 expansion Buccaneers opened their preseason with a 26-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The 2004 Cardinals opened their preseason with a 23-6 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Here's something else the Cardinals should ponder. During Tampa Bay's training camp in '76, tight end Ricou deShaw asked the coaches if he could use the bathroom. Then he sprinted into the locker room, cleaned his locker and was never seen by the coaches again.

If we're Green, we're limiting the bathroom breaks. He may also want to see who's paying attention.

Then-Tampa Bay coach John McKay often tells the story about how, before Week 3, he met with the team.

"Gentlemen," he said, "losing starts with mistakes, losing starts with turnovers, losing starts with ..." McKay stopped when he noticed offensive lineman Howard Fest asleep in his chair.

"Fest!" McKay said. "Where does losing start?"

Stunned, a flustered Fest answered, "Right here in Tampa Bay, Coach!"

In the Cardinals' defense, injuries to key players have set them back. A brutal schedule that kicks off with games against the Rams and defending Super Bowl champion New England won't help.

Cardinals fans need to take a cue from New Orleans and take a light-hearted approach to their team's woes. The Saints built a hall of fame that features one of the original paper bags that shame-faced fans wore to games, a picture of Ricky Williams in a wedding dress that ESPN The Magazine ran on its cover, and photos from their spectacular halftime shows, which were stopped after a cannon blew off the hand of a participant.

The truth is, we like the Green hire. In a few years, we believe he'll have this turned around. In the meantime, fans should hope for the worst (think: draft pick) and prepare for the worst. Maybe those luminaria bags in the closet will come in handy after all.
 

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