Over the next seven years, Martz coached tight ends, receivers or quarterbacks with the Rams and Redskins, returning to St. Louis under Vermeil. "What did I have to lose?" recalls Vermeil, who was a combined 9-23 in his first two years with the Rams. "Most people in St. Louis had already fired me."
Last week the Rams rewarded Martz for this 526-point season and kept him off the market by signing him to a two-year contract that anoints him as Vermeil's successor. Martz will make about $550,000 a year until Vermeil, 63, retires, probably in 2002, at which point Martz will make more than $1 million per year as the boss. "I'm so lucky," he says. "I'm in a special place in time."
Three other moves made the Rams super:
Trading for Faulk. The week before last April's NFL draft, the Rams and the Baltimore Ravens were in fierce competition to acquire Faulk from the Indianapolis Colts. Indianapolis president Bill Polian feared the 26-year-old Faulk would hold out in a contract dispute (he says he would have) and didn't relish paying an edge runner—i.e., one that doesn't do all that well rushing between the tackles—franchise-back money. Faulk still chafes over the Colts' thinking: "When they wouldn't pay me, and they paid a free-agent defensive end, Chad Bratzke, a $9 million signing bonus, I'm thinking, Hello? I've been taking this ass whipping on a bad team for what?"
Baltimore offered Indy second-and third-round picks for Faulk. St. Louis bid second-and fifth-round choices, but the Rams' second-round pick (36th) was six slots higher than the Ravens'. Polian, glad to get Faulk out of the AFC, made the deal with St. Louis. The Rams have employed the 5'10", 210-pound Faulk, who has 4.45 speed, as a running back, slotback, flanker and wide receiver. He responded with the most productive rushing-receiving season by a back in the NFL's 80-year history—1,381 rushing yards and 1,048 receiving yards.
Drafting Holt in the first round. With Faulk onboard and a wideout triumvirate of Bruce, Hakim and Proehl in place, the draft-day priority seemed clear: anybody but an offensive skill player. Cornerback Champ Bailey and defensive end Jevon Kearse were still on the board—positions of need for St. Louis—but the Rams picked the burner of the draft, North Carolina State's Holt, who runs the 40 in 4.44. "It was Holt all along," says St. Louis's vice president of player personnel, Charley Armey. "When you find speed like that, you never pass it up." Now, in three-receiver, one-back sets, the Rams field one of the fastest offensive units in history.
Making Warner the starting quarterback. After Green's knee injury on Aug. 28, most of the St. Louis coaches and players were distraught, including Martz, who had worked with Green in Washington and had helped the Rams sign him as a free agent last February. "Isaac Bruce grabbed me that day, which freaked me out," Martz says. "Isaac might say two words to me in a month, but that day he said, 'Mike, don't worry about us. Kurt's going to be fine. I know it.' Dick wanted Kurt to be the backup to Trent all along. He had a lot of confidence in him."
Vermeil had almost as much confidence in Proehl. Seventeen Rams combined to score St. Louis's 72 touchdowns in 1999, yet Proehl, signed by Vermeil as a free agent in '98, had none of them. He had played on five teams in 10 seasons, had never been to a Pro Bowl and, until this month, had never played in the postseason. "General managers want bigger, faster, slicker cars than a Ricky Proehl," Vermeil said after Sunday's game. "I'll tell you why I like Ricky. Not only is he a reliable receiver, but I trust him in every way. He has his family and professional priorities in order."
On third-and-four at the Tampa 30, with 4:50 left to play, Warner reminded Proehl during a Rams' timeout that he would be the target if a safety blitzed on the next play. Warner also told him the cornerback on that side, Kelly, would be ready for Proehl to run a short hook or out, anticipating a quick pass. "I got it," Proehl told Warner. Proehl got a step on Kelly, who did think the play would be a short throw, and Warner launched the pass. "I was already thinking of what we'd call on fourth-and-four," Martz said afterward.
"I bobbled the ball a bit and pinned it against my shoulder," Proehl said of the catch.