One person especially relieved with the Rams win over the Saints is Scott Linehan. The improved play from his team witnesses this week (and to some extent against Cleveland) made life under the guillotine just a little more comfortable for him. Oh, make no mistake, a couple more ugly games this season, the kind of ugly games like so many of the first eight, where you wonder whether or not the Rams showed up, and he'll be passing around resumes at the finest 1AA schools in the country. But, he definitely pulled himself closer to getting a third season as the Rams head coach.
I told Sunil at Canal Street Chronicles that he was as good as gone ahead of last week's game. Now, I'm not so sure. With another couple wins and a consistent effort from the team, he may just save himself.
And now, faithful Rams fans, we have a duty to ask ourselves whether we think Linehan should return for a third season. Well?
Let's break it down a little further, reviewing some of the main arguments that we've cited all season long in defense or, mostly, derision of Linehan.
Had the Rams gone 0-8 and not experienced the injury plague that they did, someone else would have been wearing the headset against New Orleans. The injuries bought him a full season, and have likely limited the Rams, regardless of playing their individual best for the next seven, to just two or three more wins, battling it out with the 49ers for last place in the division.
However, if you can bear to recall some of t hose ugly moments form the first eight weeks, you'll remember that injuries cannot shoulder all the blame for the Rams woeful fortunes in 2007. Game after game, we dished at the water cooler, on fantasy league message boards, at family dinners, and here on these pages about the often conservative, sometimes questionable, and several times confounding play calling coming from Linehan and his Offensive Coordinator, Greg Olson. Last year, a relatively successful one for the offense, Linehan made it perfectly clear that he was no Mike Martz. Linehan's calling card is a solid running game, tight, short routes in the middle and in the flat, and ball control. Not exactly exciting football, but a sound recipe for success, in theory. Last year's defense and this year's injury list made that strategy difficult, and that strategy fails to utilize the strengths of this team's key offensive skill players. The vision of Brian Leonard running up the middle on 4th and 1 in the 4th quarter against the Browns in week eight will forever stand as a one play summary for the first eight games of the season.
Finally, against New Orleans, they went to the tape, and designed an offensive game plan unleashing the high powered offense of old by exploiting the Saints weaknesses in the defensive backfield and the pass rush. Lo and behold, the Rams scored 37 points and lived through a fourth quarter rally to win the game.
The key question, and one reason I'm withholding judgment on Linehan's fate for at least another week, is whether or not this trend will continue. Remember last season when the offensive game plan stuttered its way through a midseason slump until finally opening up for a nice little run to wrap up the season at 8-8? Well, the injury bug wasn't as bad, but the play calling was, until it was too late. If Linehan does want to stick around, he needs to sign some kind of coaching prenup stating that the offense won't look so stale until it's too late in the season to matter.
Thus, I present one condition for me to support Linehan's return in '08: hire a new offensive coordinator. Get a guy with his mind and his own approach to the offense, someone willing to open it up week two after a week one loss. Opening up a real dialog between Linehan's conservative approach and an offensive coordinator in love with the idea of a 30+ points a game offense would, ideally anyway, would give the Rams the best of both worlds - and leave the head coach to deal with all the other things a head coach has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Such as...
Keeping his team motivated. Now, the players continually tell the media that they came out of the gate this year and every game during their first eight with a burning desire to win. Huh. Strange, because I never really saw that. True, I didn't really see players quit either, but you can't find many instances of players wearing their passion on their sleeve. In fact, at several times during the season so far, columnists and beat writers who find themselves among the players on a daily basis have noticed the lack of a veteran leader stepping forward and pushing this team on a consistent basis. This is one thing that I worry about with Linehan. He's such an even keeled guy; can he engage the players passions, can he motivate them, can he take them to task when they need to be taken to task? I don't know, and that's a hard one to answer from this vantage point. I do know that emotion is a big part of football, more so than any other professional team sport, and sometimes that can compensate for other flaws (not consistently, but enough to make a difference game to game).
There are plenty of arguments to be made for Linehan's staying or going, and each fan can make a valid case either way. So let's hear yours.