Giant task awaits Pats

Martz: Point man of Rams' explosive attack charges ahead in tradition of Coryell.

February 03, 2002|By Ken Murray | By Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Ten years ago, Mike Martz was out of a job but not ambition.

He had been fired as offensive coordinator at Arizona State, along with the rest of the staff. All his job leads dried up. He had nowhere to go. And the more he thought about it, the more he figured it was time to test the waters of the NFL.

Why not? He had watched - and fallen in love with - the San Diego Chargers' powerhouse offensive teams of the early 1980s. He was infatuated with the scheming of Chargers coach Don Coryell. He wanted to know more. He wanted to play that game.

He approached the Los Angeles Rams' Ernie Zampese about working as an unpaid offensive assistant. The volunteer work was approved by coach Chuck Knox and a new career was born.

Now, 10 years later, Martz plays that game better than anyone ever has. He is the brains behind the St. Louis Rams' offensive juggernaut that rates a 14-point favorite against the New England Patriots today in Super Bowl XXXVI.

He has put together an unprecedented three consecutive 500-plus-point seasons. His offense led the NFL in 17 categories this season. His two offensive stars - quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Marshall Faulk - have won the league's past three MVP awards.

It is as if Martz wants to complete what Coryell couldn't, as if he wants to overwhelm the league with this exotic brand of wide-open, full-throttle offense and its multiple formations and breakneck speed.

Coryell's Chargers reached the AFC championship game in 1980 and 1981, losing to Oakland and Pittsburgh, then ran out of time.

Martz's reach has already exceeded Coryell's grasp. It was his offensive system that won the Super Bowl two years ago against Tennessee, with Martz as Dick Vermeil's offensive coordinator.

Now he has a chance to win a Super Bowl as a head coach, and beyond that, maybe even create a dynasty if the Rams stay together long enough. And all week, the comparisons kept coming back to Coryell and those Chargers. The speed of both teams stands out.

"The only team I would compare would be the '80 Chargers, with [Dan] Fouts and [Chuck] Muncie, [Kellen] Winslow at tight end," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

Belichick gave Winslow the edge in speed at tight end over the Rams, but he gave the Rams' Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt the edge at wide receiver.

"And the thing about the Rams is they bring guys off the bench that are as fast or faster than the guys out there, people like [Az-Zahir] Hakim and guys that can fly," he said.

Martz readily acknowledges his Coryell roots. But he also has borrowed from offensive gurus Joe Gibbs, Zampese and even Norv Turner during Martz's two seasons as coordinator with the Washington Redskins, and come out with his own polished version.

"We probably use a lot more personnel groupings than what Don Coryell probably did," Martz said. "We're into a lot of four-wide receiver, three-wide receiver, even multiple-tight end sets, which is a little more like Joe Gibbs.

"It's probably a blend of Joe, Ernie Zampese and Don, and we've probably put our stamp on it with the four wide receivers. The shifting and the moving kind of stem from Washington with Norv, and we've just continued to do that."

This is a Super Bowl that will be decided as much on the sidelines as on the field. It probably will be decided by the coach who makes the best mid-game adjustments, who finds that one fatal flaw in his opponent.

Both coaches are slavish in their devotion to finding those flaws. Martz typically spends at least one night in his office. Last week, he and his staff adopted a bunker mentality.

"We spend an awful lot of time looking at tape and trying to get a feel for the rules of the defense that you are going to face, and then try to manipulate that any way that you possibly can," he said.

"We put a guy here or there, and try to anticipate how they will account for that particular player. That's where it stems from. As far as throwing the football, the No. 1 thing would be the protections, first and foremost, before we start with anything, including formations."

The shifting and multiple formations are designed to create mismatches for the offense. With the Rams' remarkable collection of skill players, it makes the job of defending it a little harder, even for an accomplished coach like Belichick.

"I think Mike does as good a job offensively as any coach I've coached against," Belichick said. "He has a tremendous system to begin with, and when you watch St. Louis play on film, you're very impressed with their execution, their timing, their precision and just the way they run his offense.

"Then on top of that, you take the game planning that goes into it and Mike's ability to pick out defensive weaknesses, maneuver his personnel to give you mismatches. ... He gives you so many things to get ready for and so many things to stop that it's tough."

By Friday, Belichick turned playful in his description of the Rams' complex offense.

"The only thing that could possibly be worse is if Martz was in Canada, where he had 12 guys and could run them toward the line of scrimmage before the snap," he said.

Professorial in appearance and demeanor, Martz is a man obsessed with creating the unstoppable offense. He has continually raised the standards of his Coryell-inspired offense.

Tonight, he will attempt to take it to new heights.

Martz's record

Regular season

Year Team W-L Pct. Fin.

2000 St. Louis 10-6 .625 2nd

2001 St. Louis 14-2 .875 1st

Totals 24-8 .750


Year Team W-L Pct.

2000 St. Louis 0-1 .000

2001 St. Louis 2-0 1.000

Totals 2-1 .667

2000: Lost wild-card game to New Orleans, 31-28.

2001: Won divisional game vs. Green Bay, 45-17; won conference championship vs. Philadelphia, 29-24.

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