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Monday, September 29, 2008
Scouts Inc.: Haslett unlikely to hang around St. Louis beyond season

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd

Poor defensive play was one of the downfalls of the Scott Linehan era in St. Louis, which makes the hiring of defensive coordinator Jim Haslett as interim head coach seem a little strange -- or at least ironic.

The move makes some sense, though. Haslett's experience as an NFL head coach and player, and his familiarity with the Rams, are built-in advantages. He's tough and aggressive, and he isn't afraid to hurt anyone's feelings to make a team better. This club probably could use some fire and brimstone after two-plus years of the warm-and-fuzzy Linehan. Haslett likes to attack on defense, and that attitude may spill over to the other side of the ball, where Linehan didn't take enough chances until it was too late.

Additionally, Haslett has a trusted aide in assistant head coach and linebackers coach Rick Venturi, who likely will take on a more prominent role in game planning and maybe even play calling. The smartest thing Haslett can do now is to let Venturi run the defense and free himself up to focus on managing the game -- something Linehan learned the hard way. Moreover, Venturi's experience as a two-time NFL interim head coach (Colts, Saints) should be invaluable in this situation.

Still, Haslett hands are tied. He can't change the team's personnel, and he'd be a fool to drastically alter its schemes. The Rams will do a lot of self-scouting during the bye week, taking stock of the roster to figure out how to best utilize their current personnel. Expect a return to the lineup by Marc Bulger, whose benching was a panic move by Linehan. And we may see other changes in the lineup, particularly on the offensive line and defense. No one's job is safe.

But Haslett doesn't have any go-to moves to salvage the season, and the franchise higher-ups know this. He was hired as a short-term stop-gap, and getting players to buy what you're selling as an interim coach is next to impossible. At 0-4, the Rams may be only two games out of first in the NFC West and technically still in the playoff hunt, but this is a bad team. As things head south -- and with Washington, Dallas and New England up next, they will -- Haslett may also have to deal with the additional distraction of lame-duck assistants jockeying for their next job opportunity.

Wherever they go from here, the Rams need to establish a viable power structure. It's difficult to tell who -- if anyone -- is running the show in St. Louis right now, and there's an accountability problem that trickles down throughout the organization. My suggestion: Promote Billy Devaney, the executive VP of player personnel, to general manager. He's an excellent football man who is capable of building a legitimate operations department. If not Devaney, the Rams need to go get a qualified GM and build according to his vision. Any direction is better than none.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.