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Rams Coach Calling The Shots

Mike Martz won't let go of the NFL's No. 1 offense, even if he's now the man in charge of the Super Bowl champions.

Martz inherited the St. Louis Rams coaching job, his first ever, when Dick Vermeil resigned on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Martz said he'll still be calling the plays, only from the sideline instead of the press box.

"That's what I love doing," said Martz, who got a four-year contract. "That is going to be fun for me."

Martz, 48, was offensive coordinator of a unit that averaged 33 points and more than 400 yards per game with an inventive mix of sets designed to put pressure on a defense. He said he would increase the responsibilities of some of his assistants, wide receivers coach Al Saunders in particular, to help fill the gaps.

The move is the first of several offseason adjustments for the Rams, who are soon expected to elevate Charley Armey from personnel director to general manager and Jay Zygmunt to president of football operations. Vermeil had been president of football operations, while leaning heavily on advice from Armey and Zygmunt.

Martz is the fifth coach in NFL history to take over a Super Bowl winner, and the first since 1993, when Barry Switzer replaced Jimmy Johnson at Dallas. His staff agreed it would be a crime for Martz to become a supervisor instead of a hands-on guy.

"I've never been around a guy that took a more aggressive approach to the game," tight ends coach Lynn Stiles said. "Bill Walsh was that way, but this guy is out of sight. We could be up 30-0 and he would act like it was still zero-zero, and now he's the head coach and he doesn't have to pull off."

In one big year, Martz made a name for himself. He was with the Rams from 1992-96 as an offensive assistant, coaching tight ends, receivers and quarterbacks. After Rich Brooks' staff was fired, he coached quarterbacks for two years with Washington.

Vermeil brought him back last year after the Rams had gone 4-12 with the NFL's 27th-rated offense. Just like league MVP Kurt Warner, he had no idea what he'd found.

Five years ago, Warner was stocking grocery shelves. Martz's story compares, because his first NFL job was as an unpaid tight ends coach with the Los Angeles Rams. Chuck Knox gave him a shot but no money in 1992.

The line of succession was established last month when the Rams signed Martz to a two-year contract that handed him the job when Vermeil had finished the last two years of his deal. The promotion came a lot sooner than expected for Martz, who was shocked when Vermeil broke the news Tuesday morning.

Vermeil's advice: "There's only one way to become a head coach, and that's be one."

Martz has had some time to get used to the idea and it's clear he's quickly growininto the job. When the team named him their leader of the future, Martz was uncomfortable at the podium, but on Wednesday he was cool and confident and even cracked a joke or two about his playing career, his family, advice he might get from his assistants.

Over and over again, he said he was ready.

"I think I've seen every side of this game," Martz said. "I've been with the best and the very worst, and I started at the very bottom and right now I'm at the very top.

"I feel good about being able to handle it and take another run at this thing."

This promises to be a hectic, compressed offseason for Martz. In addition to playing a month longer than most teams, he's also due to undergo surgery to fuse vertebrae in his neck. That operation had been scheduled for Wednesday morning.

"Most of the assistant coaches out there have already had a week or two off," Martz said. "Our guys, we just caught our breath."

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