ST. LOUIS -- Mike Martz is out indefinitely as coach of the
St. Louis Rams with a bacterial infection of the heart.
Martz was told by a specialist Monday that his condition, which
kept him out of two practices last week, had worsened. The
54-year-old has been ill for more than a month and was tested for
endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the lining of the heart or a
After the Rams' 37-31 loss Sunday to the Seattle Seahawks, Martz
said he shouldn't have been on the sideline. St. Louis dropped to
Rams president John Shaw said Monday that Martz will be
hospitalized four to 12 days but would not speculate on the length
of his absence. Shaw said he wasn't told the specific name of the
illness, but was led to believe that Martz's heart valve had
weakened since last week.
"I think he was concerned he was letting down a lot of people,
but also had concern about the gravity of the situation," Shaw
The antibiotics that Martz began taking on Friday didn't seem to
help, Shaw said, but he didn't know if any additional procedures
would be necessary. Severe cases of endocarditis can require
Assistant head coach Joe Vitt will take over as coach. Martz
told his players during a brief but emotional team meeting that he
would step aside, Vitt said.
"The team is his concern," Vitt said. "His health is our No.
Martz spoke with a raspy voice after Sunday's game but sounded
optimistic about his health. Still, he said that in retrospect, he
should have allowed offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild to run
"I wasn't myself this week, the game plan wasn't clear for
me," Martz said. "It's over with now but I just feel what
happened to me has affected this team, and that breaks my heart."
Martz was first hospitalized Sept. 30 with what was thought to
be a sinus infection. He coached two days later during a 44-24 loss
to the New York Giants.
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, a friend of Martz's, advised the
Rams coach to be careful with his health.
"Really, what I told Mike was -- and I put myself in the same
category -- you get so caught up in this that it, at times, appears
to become more than life and death," Holmgren said. "And it's
not. It really isn't.
"So, with the health problem like he seems to have, he's got to
take care of it. He's got to take care of himself, his family. He's
got to think of way more things than football, of winning a
football game. But it's hard for us. It's hard for all of us to
back away on something like that."
Endocarditis affects 10,000 to 20,000 Americans each year and in
some cases can cause require open-heart surgery, according to Dr.
Arthur Labovitz, director of cardiology at the Saint Louis
University School of Medicine. Martz did the right thing by
stepping down, Labovitz said.
"It's a very serious condition," Labovitz said. "There can be
some serious complications that are probably influenced by how you
take care of yourself once a diagnosis is made."
Vitt, 51, was hired as assistant head coach and linebackers
coach prior to the 2004 season after four years in Kansas City.
Martz and Vitt worked together on the Los Angeles Rams' staff from
1992-94, when Vitt was defensive backs coach and assistant head
coach under Chuck Knox.
Now in his sixth season with the Rams, Martz is 56-36 including
the postseason. The Rams have missed the playoffs just once in his
tenure (2002) and reached the Super Bowl after the 2001 season,
losing 20-17 to New England.
Martz joined the Rams as offensive coordinator in 1999, and his
high-powered offense led St. Louis to its first Super Bowl title
that season. He became head coach following Dick Vermeil's
retirement after that championship run.
NFL coaches are notorious for their long hours, and Martz is no
exception, sometimes sleeping at the office. And heart problems
have affected relatively young coaches before in the high-stress
atmosphere of the NFL.
Dan Reeves had a heart procedure while coaching Denver in his
mid-40s. During the 1998 season, he underwent quadruple bypass
season at age 54 but returned to the sidelines less than four weeks
later to coach the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl.
Dallas' Bill Parcells has had several heart procedures and cited
health problems when he quit the New York Giants after winning his
second Super Bowl with them at age 49 in 1991. He has since coached
New England and the New York Jets as well as the Cowboys.
In 1988, Chicago coach Mike Ditka suffered a heart attack at the
age of 49 and missed just one game. Two weeks later, in Washington,
he was supposed to be just an observer, but ended up coaching the