St. Louis Rams  

 

Rams hire Saunders as offensive coordinator

  • By Associated Press
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ST. LOUIS -- Though he had been mentioned as a candidate for the Washington Redskins head coaching job, Al Saunders figured he'd be changing teams when Joe Gibbs resigned in early January.

Negotiations with the St. Louis Rams began several days before Saunders was formally fired on Saturday, a day after the Redskins hired Jim Zorn as his replacement to run their offense. That made it far less of a whirlwind courtship when Saunders got a three-year contract Wednesday as the Rams' new offensive coordinator.

Coach Scott Linehan, who is delegating play-calling duties to the 60-year-old Saunders, said he put other candidates on hold while waiting for a resolution to Saunders' situation. But Saunders said he and Linehan had been talking for more than a week after the Rams received permission to negotiate.

The Redskins, who also fired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, have not named a successor to Gibbs.

"Anytime you have a coaching change, there's generally change all the way down the list," Saunders said Thursday on a conference call. "We thought (Gibbs) would be here for a long period of time, but I think anybody has the right to bring in their own people."

Saunders is beginning his second stint with the Rams after serving as associate head coach and wide receivers coach in 1999 and 2000. A former head coach with the San Diego Chargers in 1986, he also was an assistant with the Kansas City Chiefs for 10 years over two stints.

"My wife and I have spent 17 years in the state of Missouri, so we've been paying taxes there for a long time," Saunders said. "And that's home for us."

The offense he returns to is nothing like the Greatest Show on Turf that led the NFL in scoring three straight years from 1999-2001. Although he'll be reunited with Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, it needs a lot of work after finishing 24th in total offense and averaged just 16 points, fifth-worst in the NFL.

The biggest similarity is running back Steven Jackson, a multidimensional threat just like Marshall Faulk during the Rams' glory years and a player an offense can be built around. But Saunders reserved judgment on how long it'll take to get the offense revved up again given the injury issues on the line.

Seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace has played only 10 games the last two years after going down with a torn triceps muscle in the 2007 opener, and four others missed significant time last season.

"If Pace comes back at full speed at left tackle, then you've got a marquee player there," Saunders said. "I think the offensive line will need maybe some attention.

"But I think the pieces are in position, and the success depends on how you utilize them on a weekly basis and what kind of framework you have against the defense that you face."

Linehan and Saunders have similar offensive philosophies, both desiring a diversified attack. Saunders said he wouldn't necessarily be running Linehan's game plan.

"Anytime you're on a staff, everybody has input," Saunders said. "It's a collective thing for all of us. Scott has given me the assurances I can run the offense both preparation and play-calling and that was important to me, but it's still a group dynamic."

The Rams know they're getting a high-energy coach. Just like during his first stint in St. Louis when he sprinted downfield to offer pointers to wide receivers, Saunders said he still keeps moving.

"I'm a little bit animated on the field," Saunders said. "I have a passion for the game and I love to teach."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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