THE CREATIVE DIFFERENCE
Daring and dash characterize 49ers' new offensive coordinator Martz
John Crumpacker, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, May 2, 2008
(05-01) 20:50 PDT -- Mere days after being hired in January to resurrect a horrid 49ers offense, Mike Martz was presented with a situation ripe for a creative offensive mind like his:
On the sideline with head coach Mike Nolan in charge of the South college all-stars in the Jan. 26 Senior Bowl, Martz faced 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line, trailing 16-10, a few seconds remaining in the game.
What to call? A plunge up the middle? Boring. A fade route to a wide receiver? Not after three straight incompletions by quarterback Erik Ainge. What to do?
Martz dialed up an end-around run, left-to-right, by slot receiver Andre Caldwell of Florida. Caldwell got into the end zone, the extra point was good and the South won 17-16. Martz was seen grinning like a Cheshire cat after the play.
"It's trying to give your guys the best opportunity for success," Martz said. "You're not always right. Good players make plays."
As San Francisco's new offensive coordinator, the stakes will be much higher for Martz in the coming NFL season than they were for him on that lark of a day at the Senior Bowl.
This weekend, Martz, 56, gets his first look at what he will have to work with in a three-day minicamp that begins today with two of five scheduled practices sans pads.
If that winning play in the Senior Bowl is any indication, the 49ers on the offensive side of the ball will at least fog the mirror a little this season in contrast to last year's flat-line bunch.
The calling of daring plays took some getting used to for head man Dick Vermeil when he was with the St. Louis Rams and hired Martz as his offensive coordinator in 1999.
"I used to say, 'Mike, you make my rear end pucker,' " the now-retired Vermeil said. "He's so aggressive, but intelligently aggressive. It took me a while to get used to his play-calling. Once we were on the same page - even though it made me nervous - I understood him. He would shock me sometimes."
Football fans in general and 49ers fans specifically should enjoy watching Martz ply his trade this season. And San Francisco's offensive players should enjoy and benefit from someone who brings instant credibility to the job, unlike the unfortunate Jim Hostler, who was in charge of the worst offense in the league in 2007 in his one-and-done season.
"Anything" is possible
Martz is "an unorthodox offensive coach," said Rams wide receiver Torry Holt, who played for Martz in St. Louis. "You can get anything from coach Martz if he has the trust in his guys. To see that play in the Senior Bowl, I wasn't surprised. The players like the fact this guy challenges them as young football players. You'll see some of the same thing in San Francisco."
Martz spent the last two seasons as Detroit's offensive coordinator under coach Rod Marinelli. The Lions started out well in 2007 at 6-2 but then lost seven of their last eight games. With a lousy defense, the Lions had to throw the ball to try to keep pace and Martz's reputation as a pass-happy madman only grew.
"I come from a team that was 32nd in defense," Martz said of the Lions. "People ask why we threw the ball so much. Now we can come in and play 'normal' football and have patience. At Detroit, we couldn't do that. You look up at the scoreboard and you're down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter."
Martz enjoyed his greatest success in the NFL at St. Louis, where he had running back Marshall Faulk as the fulcrum of a prolific offense. Faulk the receiver was every bit as productive as Faulk the runner and in 1999, Martz's first year with the Rams, the club scored a then-record 526 points and won Super Bowl XXXIV.
The year before, the Rams totaled 285 points for 16 games.
"A huge percentage of that has to be attributable to Mike Martz and the offensive coaches," Vermeil said. "I can't name you one other coach who joined a staff and impacted the team greater than Mike Martz in that 1999 season. He made a difference. I don't think we would have won the Super Bowl without him."
While the 49ers' Frank Gore is not an exact fit in the Faulk mold, he's close. The two backs are of similar size and both are excellent receivers as well as runners.
"He has that type of multiplicity, if you will," Martz said of Gore. "He's a very unselfish player. He's a better pass-blocker than Marshall was. He has excellent receiving skills. He's a guy you can pound without worrying if he'll hold up."
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