For a coach who might hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, Martz has taken a strange road to the top. Ten years ago he was a coach adrift, out of his job as offensive coordinator at Arizona State in a staff overhaul. After two months of unemployment Mike told his wife, Julie, that after 19 years and eight teams, he was considering leaving the nomadic coaching life and finding a regular job to support their four children. He had friends in the construction business; maybe he'd go back to laying tile, which he'd done while attending Fresno State. Julie wouldn't hear of it. "We love what you do," she told him. "Just keep going. We'll be O.K."
Mike decided on the ultimate act of desperation: working for free. He left the family in Arizona, took a volunteer position coaching tight ends and working as a quality-control assistant for the Los Angeles Rams and bunked in a spare room of a friend's house for seven months. He was so low on the totem pole that when Julie came to the Rams' first home game that year, he had to pay for her ticket. For the next six years in Anaheim, St. Louis and Washington, Mike got paid to work under two offensive-minded coaches—Ernie Zampese and Norv Turner—who liked to throw the ball downfield.
Martz came to his next crossroads in early 1999, when he was the Washington Redskins' quarterbacks coach. Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis had a handshake deal to become the Chicago Bears' coach and intended to name Martz his offensive coordinator. "When I woke up that morning," Martz says, "I was sure I'd be going to Chicago with Dave. I really liked his coaching style."
However, Bears president Mike McCaskey called a press conference to name McGinnis before a contract was signed, and McGinnis, sure he was being taken advantage of, withdrew from consideration for the job. Martz already had an offer to become St. Louis's offensive coordinator, but scared off by the tenuous status of coach Dick Vermeil, who was heading into a make-or-break season, he called the Rams to say he was staying put in Washington. St. Louis vice president Jay Zygmunt persuaded him to make the move by adding contractual security. The Rams won the Super Bowl that year, and the front office was so taken by Martz's leadership skills and offensive mind that he was handed his first head job at any level when Vermeil quit after the season. He's 24-8 over the past two years.
Combine Martz's aggressiveness with the transcendent talent of the Rams, and big things happen. Faulk hadn't had as many as 85 yards rushing in seven previous playoff games—teams keyed on him—before his Herculean day. "I've always understood here that you never know when your time will come," an exhausted Faulk said while walking to his car after the game. "Today turned out to be my day."
Back in his office Martz smiled at the challenge ahead—matching wits with Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "That s.o.b. Belichick," Martz said. "I admire him so much. He doesn't let you breathe. I'll be up every night trying to figure him out." You get the idea that something will come to him.