ST. LOUIS -– When head-coaching jobs became available over the past few years, there was always immediate speculation –- especially in coaching circles –- that Jim Haslett would get a second chance to build on what he did and didn't do in six seasons with the New Orleans Saints. He is respected by his peers and many of his former players, but the love didn't translate to team owners and general managers who make the hires.
Projected upstarts Rod Marinelli, Brad Childress, Mike McCarthy, Jim Zorn, Mike Smith and Scott Linehan, among others, were given opportunities Haslett wanted and some felt he deserved. So Haslett went to work as defensive coordinator for Linehan in St. Louis and worked on a staff that coached a team that got progressively worse over 2½ seasons. Things got so bad that Linehan, 11-25 in three seasons and 3-17 over the past two -- including an 0-4 start in 2008 -- was fired Monday.
Haslett has his second chance. He was named interim coach by team owner Chip Rosenbloom, who grew tired of losing games and fans.
"This community deserves a team that wins," said Rosenbloom, who spoke about Haslett's promotion as more of a long-term deal, even though it's just for the remainder of the season. "Jim Haslett is the man to do it."
Said Haslett: "If you look at the track record they're better coaches because of the experiences they went through the last time. I do think that a first-time head coach, it's hard. There are a lot things that go into it and you learn a lot on the way. I learned a lot. I went through a lot."
Haslett has 12 games to show what he can do with a team that has some talent, marginal gumption and a penchant for hanging its head when adversity surfaces. Rallying the Rams to a playoff berth and NFC West championship are aspirations as high as dropping Coughlin, Dungy and Belichick into the conversation.
However, 6-6, maybe even 5-7, might be enough for Haslett to prove he's as good as some of his peers believe. St. Louis has only won three of its last 20 games.
Maybe Haslett isn't the greatest Xs and Os guy. It could be he is regarded more because of his ability to motivate, organize and lead. Haslett might even recognize those strengths and weaknesses. He removed himself as defensive coordinator -- linebackers coach Rick Venturi will take over the defense -- so he could manage all facets of the team.
Haslett's fiery personality is a stark contrast to Linehan's businesslike approach that failed to spark much bravado among his charges. For Haslett, coaching in this limited time frame may be more a case of kicking some players in the backside or kicking them off the field.
"I promise they will play hard," Haslett said. "They will play hard or they're not going to be here."
Without restraint or hesitation, Haslett also said there could be personnel changes because he and executive vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney will oversee personnel. Longtime personnel men Jay Zygmunt and John Shaw will not be as involved in the talent acquisition and decisions any longer. Haslett and Devaney are in charge, which, although limited in scope because the season is a quarter of the way finished, is a potentially significant power shift -- especially since a lot of that power is going to an interim coach.
One of the first on-field moves Haslett could make is the re-insertion of Marc Bulger at quarterback. Linehan benched Bulger for Trent Green last week, a move that bore more controversy in the locker room than results on the field against Buffalo on Sunday. Haslett said he would talk to the rest of his assistants before making a change but he said he has his strong opinions on what he wants to do.
Haslett also said he would like to bring back cornerback Fahkir Brown, who was cut last week. Haslett said he feels Brown is a good player and to get rid of a good player was something the Rams could ill afford. The acknowledgement of such personnel change shows that Haslett is starting to take control and putting his imprint on the organization.
More than anything, Haslett said he wants to instill some swagger, an attitude that typically doesn't surface until some games are won. He cited the Bills as a team with that persona. Buffalo happens to be unbeaten and coached by Dick Jauron, who, like Haslett, is on his second tour as a head coach.
"For us to get at that level, doing some different things and playing fast, hopefully will get us over the hump," Haslett said.
As coach of the Saints, Haslett said his players and coaches never feared the powerful Rams teams that boasted loads of offensive talent and seemingly indefensible schemes. He wants guys who swarm, thump, and play like the game is important to them. That might take an offseason of overhaul, but it also might take a reminder that players should be grateful to have pro football as a means to make a living.
"They thought that we could come up here and physically beat the Rams," Haslett said. "Whether we could or couldn't that's how they played. I'm going to try to get my personality (on this team) as fast as we can. I do like guys that are tough and hard-nosed and like to play the game."