Vitt plays up positives

Rams interim coach upbeat in face of illness, team's slim hopes


His close friend is sidelined with a heart infection. His football team is close to missing the playoffs. And closer to home, Joe Vitt had to undergo a heart procedure of his own last month.

And yet, Vitt, the interim coach of the St. Louis Rams, said this year has been fun.

"I love football," he said. "Anytime I get to come to work and I'm around Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and Orlando Pace ... that's fun. Things haven't gone exactly the way we wanted them to this year, but we're going to come out and work hard every day, and we're going to look to get better."

Such passion for the game is par for the course for Vitt, whose Rams (5-6) play host Sunday to the Washington Redskins (5-6) in a critical game for both teams.

Players and coaches who know Vitt, 51, said the former Towson State linebacker is fiery, intense and dedicated to his profession of 27 years.

That exuberance comes through in conversations with Vitt, who is upfront and candid with his players and the media.

"He doesn't beat around the bush," St. Louis wide receiver Torry Holt said. "He's pretty straightforward like [Bill] Parcells and [Dick] Vermeil and those older guys. So you can tell that he's been around some great coaching and he was able to pick up a little bit from everybody."

Vitt's coaching path includes stints with Ted Marchibroda (Baltimore Colts), Chuck Knox (Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams), Ray Rhodes (Green Bay Packers) and Dick Vermeil (Kansas City Chiefs).

But for Vitt, everything originated from his playing days at Towson State, where he was the starting linebacker for the 1974 squad that went 10-0 - the only undefeated team in school history.

"It was a great, great experience," said Vitt, who met his wife, Linda, at Towson State and sent his son Joe Jr. to play wide receiver for the Tigers. "In the offseason, I spend a lot of time in Baltimore, and I have a place in Ocean City that I retire to. So everything that I have in my life from football to my family was really all started in Towson."

For now, however, his attention is on the Rams, who are 3-3 under Vitt and likely will start rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick against Washington.

Coach Mike Martz, who had to step away in October because of a bacterial infection in a heart valve, said earlier this week that he hopes to return to the team before the end of the season - a move Vitt said he would not oppose.

Last month during the team's bye week, Vitt had a coronary angiogram so that doctors could take an X-ray image of blood vessels in the heart - a procedure that became necessary after Vitt said he had an allergic reaction to cholesterol-lowering medicine in August.

Vitt, who has survived two bouts with testicular cancer, said he is thankful for every new lease on life.

"If you don't have challenges like that in your life, I just think you take a lot of things for granted," he said. "I'm thankful for my marriage, my children, my profession, my health. I give thanks a couple times a day. I think you do that when you've been through some catastrophic illnesses."

But Vitt said he has no plans on slowing down. Though he declined to discuss any aspirations about becoming a head coach elsewhere if Martz returns to St. Louis, Vitt said his future revolves around football.

"I don't want to do anything else," he said. "I've done this for 27 straight years. I don't want any time off; I don't want any sabbaticals. They're going to have to drag me off the field."

Redskins@Rams Sunday, 4:05 p.m., chs. 45, 5, 1430 AM, 106.7 FM Line: Redskins by 3

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