ST. LOUIS — Better than anyone, Mike Martz realized during the St. Louis Rams’ glory years that nothing lasts forever.
During the three-year run from 1999-2001 when the team led the NFL in offense three straight seasons and went to a pair of Super Bowls, Martz often remarked that it was a “special place in time” for the organization.
Kurt Warner won a pair of MVP awards, Marshall Faulk won the third, and the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense that also featured Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt scored 500 points all three years.
“He used the term ‘fast and furious’ a lot and that’s really the way we approached the game on offense,” Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace said. “He wanted to take advantage of every defense, and the style he played on offense was great.”
In the end, Martz was correct. It couldn’t be sustained indefinitely.
Now, instead of turning the page on a 6-10 season spoiled by too many injuries and too much off-the-field controversy, instead of easing back into the job after missing the last 11 games with a heart ailment, instead of plotting whom to take with the 11th pick in the draft in late April, Martz’ agent is in the process of negotiating a settlement on the final year of a three-year contract after his firing on Monday.
One reason Martz is an ex-coach is it’s been a while since the Rams were a member of the NFL’s elite. The past two seasons, they’re 14-18.
Warner is long gone after getting injured in 2003 and then losing his job to Marc Bulger, who helped produce a 12-win season, the Rams’ last big year. The offensive line got older, with guard Adam Timmerman in particular struggling with injuries, and younger at the same time with two rookie starters much of this year.
Over time, the Rams became, well, more ordinary.
The biggest reason it’s over, though, was the clash of wills between Martz and the front office that was a byproduct of all that success. Four playoff berths in five years fortified egos and set up a battle against director of football operations Jay Zygmunt, a 24-year employee of the Rams, that Martz could not win.
In some players’ minds, Martz was finished long before the news became official on Monday morning, the day after the Rams (6-10) wound up a bizarre, disappointing season on a positive note with a 20-10 victory at Dallas.
Even Bulger, Martz’ choice to replace the popular Warner, had moved on. As he pointed out, he’s had a while to get used to the idea. After all the speculation, Bulger appreciated the mercifully quick decision.
“It was pretty apparent the last month or two that this day was going to come,” Bulger said. “I think it’s better for coach Martz and for the organization that it happened quicker, for him to find another job and for us to find a replacement.”
Bulger, discovered off the scrap heap by Martz, won’t get involved with what went wrong or who was in the wrong. He’s not going to second-guess Shaw’s decision to dismiss Martz. He’ll rehab his injured shoulder and let others take care of the big picture.
“It’s not up to me to worry about who the coach is,” Bulger said. “Mr. Shaw is the president and what he says goes.”
Shaw expects to hire a replacement in three to four weeks and Bulger, for one, doesn’t appear to care who comes in next even though a defensive mind appears to be on the top of the priority list. Given the offensive tools that are available, Bulger reasons that excessive tinkering on his side of the ball probably won’t be necessary.
“I don’t think someone’s going to come in and teach us a completely new game,” Bulger said. “We’ll still be playing football, so I don’t think the adjustment will be too outlandish.”
Not long ago, everything that Martz touched turned to gold. Hired as the offensive coordinator by Dick Vermeil in 1999, he quickly made a name for himself with his “Mad Mike” stratagems.
Faulk, a standout for so-so Colts teams, elevated the Rams to the top of the league with his running and pass-catching. Warner, an unknown product of Arena League Football, was molded into a star after Trent Green was lost of the year in the 1999 preseason.
Martz quickly became such a hot commodity that the Rams hired him as the head coach in waiting whenever Vermeil retired, which he did two days after winning the franchise’s only Super Bowl.
In his first five seasons, Martz produced three teams that won 10 or more games. The 2000 team was 6-0 before Warner broke a pinky finger that sidelined him for 5 1/2 games, in 2001 the Rams were 14-2 and were two-touchdown favorites before losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
It began falling apart last year, when the Rams made the playoffs despite an 8-8 record. This year’s 6-10 record was the franchise’s worst since 1998, though Martz was around for only the first five games.
“I think you always have regrets because you think you could have done a better job,” Martz said. “Perfection is always the goal.
“Obviously there’s regrets I’m not going to be here, but that’s the way it goes.”