Lions, 49ers Not Bettered by Martz

Mike Martz earned a reputation as a genius with the Rams, but what about those Lions and 49ers stints? According to two Scout.com insiders who covered him in Detroit and San Fran, buyer beware.

Not only one of the most productive offenses the NFL has ever seen, but also one of the most entertaining for fans, the "Greatest Show on Turf" coordinated in St. Louis by Mike Martz lit up scoreboards across the league.

Hiring Martz to be their new offensive coordinator after a search lasting 27 agonizing days, the Monsters of the Midway are now hoping to do the same.

But it remains to be seen if the Bears will now have the "Greatest Show on Dirt" with Martz at the controls, as the footing outside at Soldier Field isn't quite as consistent as it was inside the Edward Jones Dome. Martz traveled to Nashville this past weekend and had dinner with Jay Cutler, apparently to clear the air after some tough love the coach threw the quarterback's way back in September on NFL Network, and the two even did some basic game-planning on a dry erase board. By far, Cutler will be the most physically gifted passer Martz has ever had a chance to coordinate.

Not exactly known for getting off the bus running the football, as coach Lovie Smith has always said he prefers to do, Martz will change the way Chicago goes about its business offensively to some degree.

"I feel real good about Mike Martz being a part of our team," Smith said Monday after the hiring. "I think he'll bring energy. The guys will be excited about the Chicago Bears offense that we're going to have."

Formerly the quarterbacks coach of the Redskins, Martz became offensive coordinator of the Rams in 1999 and was promptly dealt quite a blow in the preseason, when starting QB Trent Green was lost for the year with a knee injury. Enter Kurt Warner, a former Arena Leaguer and veteran of NFL Europe, having thrown a grand total of 11 Sunday passes in his career. All he did was pile up 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns under Martz's direction, earning league MVP honors and bringing the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Gateway to the West.

Promoted to head coach in 2000 after Dick Vermeil decided to go out on top, the Rams continued to be an offensive juggernaut with Martz yet never again experienced the same level of team success. Warner won another MVP in 2001 but got replaced as the starter in favor of Marc Bulger by 2003, with both injuries and ineffectiveness partially to blame. Like Warner, Bulger went from unknown to Pro Bowler seemingly overnight, although the honeymoon was over by 2005, when Martz needed a leave of absence five games into the campaign to treat a bacterial infection in his heart.

Even though Joe Vitt technically took over on an interim basis, Martz never coached the Rams again and was pink-slipped one day after the finale.

Martz landed with the Lions in 2006, becoming offensive coordinator for a team that couldn't move the ball consistently with either Joey Harrington or Jeff Garcia under center the year before. Fresh off two seasons backing up Carson Palmer with the Bengals, Jon Kitna arrived in Detroit and put up some Warner-like numbers, throwing for 4,208 yards and 21 touchdowns. In 2007, it was a similar story with Kitna racking up 4,068 more yards and 18 more TDs, although the Lions only went a combined 10-22 during that stretch and Martz was let go again.


Mike Martz
Getty Images: Jed Jacobsohn

According to Nate Caminata, publisher of RoarReport.com, Martz was able to inflate passing numbers in the Motor City but never truly made the offense work.

"Jon Kitna's 'success' under Martz is pretty misleading," says Caminata, "considering in his two seasons in Detroit, Martz's offenses ranked in the bottom half of the league. In fact, Kitna threw five more interceptions than touchdowns between those campaigns."

Not only does Caminata believe his reputation as an offensive mastermind is grossly misleading, but Martz left a stain on the Lions that took a while to remove.

"Despite the praise that is constantly bestowed upon him, Martz's actual impact was limited, if not completely adverse," Caminata says. "By his own admission, Martz's downfall is abandoning the run and growing impatient in contests, which caused enough friction for the Lions to end the experiment at the end of 2007. Even more distressing was the 'de-Martzification' of the offense, which was felt through the middle of the 2008 season. Generally speaking, he arrived in Detroit with a great deal of hoopla but left one of the franchise's latest and greatest disappointments."

In 2008, Martz became offensive coordinator of the 49ers, although his stay in San Francisco was bound to be a short one after the historically pass-happy organization decided to make a switch in philosophy.

"Martz was a goner in San Francisco the moment Mike Singletary took over as head coach near midseason to replace the deposed Mike Nolan," says Craig Massei, publisher of SFIllustrated.com.

While Martz wanted the turnover-prone J.T. O'Sullivan calling signals because he knew the system from his time in Detroit, Singletary went with the more conservative Shaun Hill almost immediately.

"Martz's offensive expertise and prowess were obvious during his time in San Francisco," Massei says, "but his system relies way too much on precision passing and puts the quarterback at risk much too often with minimal protection. Martz would rather have extra guys out on the passing route than extra guys in to protect his passer. Opposing defensive coordinators have obviously caught onto this as the years have passed."

San Francisco finished 13th in passing but only 24th in total offense and 23rd in points scored, so Martz was fired for the third time in four years.

Needless to say, Martz enjoyed his greatest triumphs in St. Louis, when he had five likely Hall of Famers at his disposal: Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, left tackle Orlando Pace and wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Matt Forte catches the ball well, but he's not nearly as electric as Faulk was. Chris Williams has potential as a blind-side protector, although Pace was unbeatable. Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox in no way resemble the terrific triumvirate that was Bruce, Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim. And even though Cutler has a better arm and more mobility than Warner ever had, Warner's timing and accuracy within Martz's notoriously intricate scheme may be impossible for Cutler to match.

Martz will inevitably bring a level of excitement to the Chicago passing game fans have rarely seen from this run-first franchise, but those same fans in Detroit and San Francisco saw little else.


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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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