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Martz not expected back this season

ST. LOUIS (Nov. 30, 2005) -- St. Louis Rams president John Shaw says he would be shocked if Mike Martz got medical clearance to return to coaching this season.

Martz stepped down Oct. 24 on doctors' orders while suffering from endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the lining of the heart. Interim coach Joe Vitt has coached the team the last six games, going 3-3 heading into Week 13's game against the Washington Redskins, and Shaw expects Vitt to finish out the year.

"I would be totally shocked if Mike got cleared," Shaw told The Associated Press. "At the time he left it was pretty clear to him that he couldn't come back. But he's a coach and you get anxious."

On Nov. 29, Martz told TV station KMOV that "This is the best I've felt. And when you feel this good, you feel like you should be working."

Shaw said he's spoken several times to the infectious disease specialist in charge of Martz' case. That specialist told him he'd be feeling much better about this time of the year but that he'd face a risk making an early return.

Martz, who is at his second home in San Diego, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he probably wouldn't press the issue.

"I wouldn't feel very comfortable calling (the doctor) after all this," he said. "We'll just stay by the plan."

Beyond this season, Shaw said there's no decision regarding Martz' future with the team amid widespread speculation that he won't be back. Next season is the final year of his contract, and Shaw said lame-duck status was only one of the variables to consider.

Shaw would not rule out Martz, 58-39 in six seasons with the team, coaching the team next year. Martz coached the team to one Super Bowl in 2001 and was the offensive coordinator in 1999 for the franchise's lone Super Bowl championship.

"Would he change his staff, would he be able to hire new coaches in the last year of his contract?" Shaw said. "When you start weighing them, you start formulating in your head what type of commitment you need to make and which direction you want to take."

The biggest factor against Martz' returning is an adversarial relationship with director of football operations Jay Zygmunt. Martz said after stepping down that he didn't know if he and Zygmunt could co-exist professionally.

Shaw said a possible reorganization of the front office "will be on the table at some point."

"It usually starts and ends with the head coach, he's the main piece to the puzzle," Shaw said. "Once there's a head coach, depending on who you hire and what the person's wishes are, or if you keep Mike, you start to formulate the pieces around him."

Martz has made several visits to Rams Park since stepping down and every time proclaimed he felt much better. Shaw said when he last spoke to Martz about three weeks ago, the coach told him he'd feel strong for stretches before fatigue set in.

Shaw said he's been "pleasantly surprised" with the team's play under Vitt, the assistant head coach and linebackers coach.

"The team has played hard," Shaw said. "It's limited right now by injuries but the team plays with great energy and conviction and those are all positive things."

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