EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Of the many coaches who have passed through St. Louis in the past decade or so, the one who has gone on to the most success since his departure is returning to town with the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was probably the most old school and understated of the six head coaches the team has employed since 2004. Vitt was the one who filled in for Mike Martz when he was diagnosed with a bacterial heart infection in Week 5 of the 2005 season. Vitt was Martz's top lieutenant and stepped into a difficult situation to lead the Rams to a 4-7 record over the final 11 games, much of that time with backup quarterbacks in the mix.
Fans and players alike immediately warmed to Vitt's hard-nosed, no nonsense personality but it wasn't enough to earn him the job on a full-time basis.
Although that record isn't much to write home about, I always believed Vitt didn't get enough credit for the job he did in a really tough spot. But the players all liked and respected Vitt, a common theme among those who know him.
Now, Vitt serves in a similar capacity as New Orleans coach Sean Payton's right hand man. Vitt was interim coach in Payton's absence last year and is back in his role as the assistant head coach again this year.
“He’s a big piece to what we do," Payton said Wednesday. "He’s our assistant head coach and he’s someone that I’ve known. He’s been very instrumental, very helpful to me with his years in the league, his experience in the league. He’s got a great ability to recall certain things that maybe a bunch of us wouldn’t have had those experiences. So, he’s a great teacher, a great motivator. I think the players very much so respond to his coaching and he’s great on this staff. So, he’s been an important part of what we’ve been able to accomplish in a short period of time here."
Vitt and Payton actually first worked together in 1997 when both were assistants on Philadelphia's staff. The two stayed close after that and stayed in touch. When Payton got the head job in New Orleans in 2006, the timing was right as Vitt came available when he was not retained as coach of the Rams. Payton hired him and the two have been together with the Saints since.
As is his style, Vitt won't expect any sort of big homecoming this weekend, nor will he get one. But it's worth noting upon his return the job he did in what amounted to a no-win scenario.
A roundup of Wednesday's Rams stories on ESPN.com. … In yesterday's Ram-blings we looked at the increase in serious knee injuries around the NFL. … From there, we looked at the Rams' continued offensive line dancing. … Next, we examined this week's hot topics in St. Louis with the weekly Buzz. … After that, it was a piece on what the Rams are hoping to accomplish through the final three weeks. … Finally, it was time for a daily injury update as Tavon Austin missed practiced and center Scott Wells went on injured reserve.
Saints reporter Mike Triplett brought Fisher's comments on Rob Ryan's decision to leave the Rams before he ever actually signed on.
Triplett also had this piece on the Saints not taking the Rams lightly.
At stltoday.com, Jim Thomas draws the clear correlation between the Rams' success running the ball and staying competitive in games.
Thomas also notes the continued improvement of linebacker Alec Ogletree.
At nola.com, Saints reporter Terrance Harris previews the Rams-Saints matchup.
Turf Show Times chronicles the Rams' defensive struggles on third down.