Saturday, October 02, 1999

Rams change with Vermeil


After hiatus, coach returns to rebuild team

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Bengals fan knows as well as anyone how hard it can be to watch a team try to change a losing attitude.

        That was the task that awaited Dick Vermeil when — after a 15-year absence from the NFL — he returned to coach the St.Louis Rams in 1997.

        St.Louis and Cincinnati, who square off Sunday at Cinergy Field, are the losingest teams this decade. The Rams haven't had a winning season in 10 years.

        Only eight players remain from when Vermeil took over. What is left and what has been brought in are players who expect to win.

        “I think it's a constant psychological bombardment by our coaching staff, and you just keep selling,” Vermeil said.

        “I think teams like the Rams, that have been losing, are always a little more fragile than teams that have experienced some success. I think it helped us to start well. I feel very fortunate.”

        The Rams are a surprising 2-0, having convincingly defeated Baltimore (27-10) and defending NFC champion Atlanta (35-7). They are one of only five unbeaten teams in the NFL.

        How have they done it?

        • When starting quarterback Trent Green, signed as a free agent, went down with a season-ending knee injury during the preseason, Kurt Warner emerged as a steady team leader and on-field success. Warner, who has played in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe, is the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week and has the second-best QB rating in the league (behind Washington's Brad Johnson).

        • The Rams obtained star running back Marshall Faulk, a proven producer, in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts.

        • Standout receiver Isaac Bruce, a Pro Bowler in 1996 who battled injuries most of last season, appears healthy. And he is complemented by speedy rookie Torry Holt and second-year man Az-Zahir Hakim. The three have combined for 23 receptions, 323 yards and four TDs in two games.

        • The offensive line, led by former Ohio State star Orlando Pace, has allowed only three sacks.

        • The defense is holding opponents to an average of 228 yards a game (third-best in the NFL) — 64 rushing and 164 passing.

        “We've got some players who can play,” Vermeil said. “Everybody that touches the ball can make a play. I've never been involved with an offense like this in terms of that kind of talent.

        “We have, I think, a pretty good football team here. We need 14 more games to prove it.”

        Vermeil did not expect to turn around the Rams in two years and is unwilling to assume he has done so. His goal was to leave the team in better shape than when he arrived in '97.

        He knew he was going to need help, too. Vermeil last coached in Philadelphia in 1982. He had been working as an NFL and college football analyst for CBS and ABC, and returning to the sideline required some changes. Players are bigger, faster and stronger than when he coached the Eagles from 1976-82.

        “When I did it before, I ran my own offense, coached my own quarterbacks and called my own plays,” he said. “Having been away from it for 14 years, it was impossible for me to come in and coach my own offense. For one thing, it was outdated.”

        He admits that he's not as intense as he used to be. He is better at delegating, being patient and communicating with his players.

        Vermeil also has been become noted for emotional public displays, such as after Green was lost for the season and following the Rams' first victory with Warner in charge.

        Rick Reilly wrote about the 62-year-old coach in his Sports Illustrated column “The Life of Reilly.”

        “I am what I am,” Vermeil said. “I felt the article tried to make fun of it just a little bit. I've embarrassed myself more times than not by being an emotional guy. But when I'm really sincere and really care about something or someone, all of a sudden it happens to me. It's just me. It's always been like that. It used to embarrass me; now it doesn't.”

       



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- Rams change with Vermeil

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