Jim Haslett's debut as the interim coach of the St. Louis Rams came with a lot of fanfare -- and hope for the future.
After the Rams beat the Washington Redskins 19-17 on a last-second field goal by Josh Brown on Sunday, Haslett confirmed what team sources had said earlier, that the contract he signed as an interim coach could earn him and some defensive assistants an extension if the team wins at least six games. He downplayed the long-term security aspect of it, however.
Earlier, team sources said six wins combined with other performance factors would earn the staff extensions and salaries for 2009 even if they get fired.
"Look, there are a lot of stipulations in this deal and they certainly would be able to fire me if they wanted to or buy me out [if team is sold]," Haslett said. "As a coaching staff, I told our guys our job is to change the culture. ... Maybe we get a shot here, maybe we get a shot somewhere else. If nothing else, I want to leave the building in better shape, and if the team does sell, the [new owner] feels better about it, the city feels better about and the players feel better about how they stand in the community."
Rams ownership and management felt incentives for Haslett and his staff were good motivational tools to salvage a disastrous start to the year.
The team fired Scott Linehan last week after an 0-4 start and promoted Haslett from defensive coordinator to interim head coach.
After Sunday's game, Haslett said stories of his contract incentives "don't mean all that much." What did matter, he said, is changing the bad vibes around the organization that had contributed to an 0-4 start.
So what did Haslett do when everyone reported to work this past Monday after a bye? He had a pep rally of sorts earlier in the week with everyone in the organization. Corny? He could care less.
"Before the Redskins even scored their last touchdown to take a [17-16] lead, I called the offense over and said, 'Hey, they're going to score a touchdown here but [bleep] that. We're going to get the ball back, take it down and win the game.' I think some of them looked at me like I was crazy."
It's exactly what happened, even after a 15-yard unsportsmalike conduct penalty put the Rams out of a short field goal range as time was winding down. Two plays later, Brown kicked a 49-yarder to give the Rams their first win of the season.
"The problem we've had around here is every time something bad happened, we'd just die," Haslett said. "Heck, we fumbled the ball to give them a touchdown in the first half. Had some other stuff happen. I told them at halftime, I don't care we're ... winning it."
As for that "pep rally," Haslett simply invited all employees in the building to the team meeting room and embraced their interaction with players and coaches.
"It's not just players that win championships, organizations win," Haslett said. "I asked them to come eat with the coaches, the players, come to practice. ... Let's have some fun and be positive. We have to change the culture. If we have anybody who gets negative around here, I want them fired."
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.