Martz's tenure with Rams ends in dismissal

ST. LOUIS -- Now that Mike Martz has medical clearance to
return to coaching, he'll need to find a team.

Martz was fired as coach of the St. Louis Rams on Monday after a
6-10 season in which he missed the final 11 games because of a
heart ailment. That illness did not stop him from repeated clashes
with the front office, the major reason for his dismissal with a
year left on his contract.

Martz's physician said Sunday he could return to work. Martz was at
Rams Park the following morning getting the news, which has been
anticipated for weeks, that he would not be retained for the final
year of a three-year contract.

"I guess the most compelling reason was just the direction of
the team," Rams president John Shaw said. "Which is a direction
that we think we need to change right now."

The Rams missed the playoffs for only the second time in six
seasons under Martz against a soap opera backdrop of infighting.
Martz was at odds with Jay Zygmunt, director of football
operations, and Charley Armey, the general manager, all season.

The situation came to a head in October when Zygmunt denied
Martz telephone access to the coaching box to discuss play-calling
with offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild. The next day, Martz
said he didn't know if he and Zygmunt, who has been with the Rams
for 24 years, could co-exist professionally.

Players tried their best to tune it all out and just play.

"There's been speculation all year about it, hanging over our
heads whether it was going to happen or not," defensive tackle
Ryan Pickett said. "Martz was our leader. Hearing all the rumors,
it kind of bothers you."

Middle linebacker Trev Faulk learned of Martz's fate watching TV
Monday morning before a team meeting.

"Personally, I've got nothing but love for coach Martz," Faulk
said. "He's a great head coach and his record speaks for itself,
but these things happen in the league."

Shaw hopes to hire a replacement in three or four weeks. The
team has asked permission to speak to Bears defensive coordinator
Ron Rivera and Shaw said he had other candidates on playoff teams
in mind, but said there was no general profile he was seeking.

Others likely under consideration are Redskins defensive
coordinator Gregg Williams and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

The experience of the next coach will in part determine how much
control he'll be given. No college coaches are on Shaw's list.

"I have a fairly open view about this," Shaw said. "There's a
wide range of candidates."

One who's not on the list is interim coach Joe Vitt, who was 4-7
after taking over for Martz. The Rams had lost six of seven,
clinching their worst season since a 4-12 record in 1998, before
finishing with a 20-10 victory at Dallas on Sunday night.

The team was hamstrung by more than Martz's absence given that 10
players ended the season on injured reserve, including quarterback
Marc Bulger and both starting cornerbacks.

"I think Joe, really under the circumstances, did a great job
for us," Shaw said. "It's just that we really don't consider him
a candidate right now."

Vitt didn't seem too surprised, considering the Rams' record
under his command.

"That's what presidents do, they identify who is and who
isn't," Vitt said. "We hold our players responsible and
accountable and I'm being held accountable, too."

Vitt said he spoke to Martz, a close friend who was ready to
move on. Neither Martz nor his agent returned a telephone message
from the AP.

"I think he's looking forward to this next journey, which all
football coaches go through," Vitt said. "It's that time of the
year, and as a football coach you always have to say your next job
is going to be your best job."

Shaw planned to meet with Martz's agent, Bob LaMonte, in the
next few days to discuss a settlement to the final year of Martz's
contract worth $3.25 million.

Martz is an offensive guru who helped the Rams reach two Super
Bowls in a three-year span from 1999-2001, including the team's
only championship as offensive coordinator after the 1999 season.
His offense, highlighted by two-time MVP Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, led the NFL in scoring three straight seasons and was dubbed the "Greatest Show
on Turf."

The Rams made the playoffs last year despite going 8-8, and it
all unraveled this year. The team was 2-3, beginning with a
season-opening loss at San Francisco, when Martz stepped down in
mid-October due to endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart

Martz was 56-36, including the postseason, when he took his
medical leave.