On Monday, they admitted their mistake and fired Linehan after four consecutive lopsided losses to open the season. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, a fiery type and polar opposite in terms of demeanor, was hired as interim coach, given the unenviable task of trying to revive a franchise that has become an NFL doormat.
The Rams have lost 17 of their last 20 games, most of them routs. But no matter how dire the situation appears, Haslett said it'll never be as bad as in his final season as head coach of the New Orleans Saints in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"This is nothing," Haslett said, "compared to that."
Linehan, 45, was 11-25 in the third season of a four-year contract that paid him about $8 million. The Rams have been outscored 147-43 this season, and have allowed at least 30 points in seven straight games dating back to last year.
The move was made heading into the Rams' bye week and in the early morning hours Monday, several hours after the Buffalo Bills outscored them 25-0 in the second half of a 31-14 victory.
The Rams were 3-13 in 2007 and have lost eight in a row dating to last season. Dissension had been building after unsuccessful stabs by Linehan at a makeover: several new assistants; a remote training camp site; a higher-energy, upbeat delivery by the coach to project confidence and enthusiasm.
Linehan turned to desperation after the Rams were outscored 116-29 the first three games. Quarterback Marc Bulger, the highest-paid player in franchise history, was benched in favor of 38-year-old Trent Green. Starting cornerback Fakhir Brown, a Haslett favorite, was released and there were four other lineup changes.
Running back Steven Jackson ripped Linehan on his weekly radio show for benching Bulger, and there were reports Bulger no longer wanted to play for Linehan. Bulger has not spoken to media since the benching.
"He took 100 percent responsibility for the failures of this organization, but we're all culpable," owner Chip Rosenbloom said. "We all share in the responsibilities of losing games. That includes the coaches, it includes the players, it includes the administration, it includes the ownership."
That hints at more changes coming down the line. Jay Zygmunt, president of football operations and in his 27th year with the team, is drawing heat for poor draft-day performances. President John Shaw, who spends much of his time on the West Coast, is contemplating retirement after the season.
A sign at Sunday's home game read: "Congress. Now bail out the Rams."
Linehan briefly addressed players for about 10 minutes Monday morning before driving away from Rams Park without speaking to reporters or even making eye contact.
"He just told us that we're winners," said rookie defensive end Chris Long, Linehan's last first-round pick. "We're not winning right now, but there's winners in the room.
"He's going to do well, he's going to find a place where it's going right."
Given the Rams' weak play on defense, the 52-year-old Haslett is an unusual choice on the surface. He has head coaching experience, winning 45 games in six seasons for the Saints from 2000-05, but the defense is ranked 31st out of 32 teams despite a pair of young first-rounders, Long and Adam Carriker, on the line.
Typically blunt, the former NFL linebacker is far from pleased.
"Come on, the first three games we played poorly," Haslett said. "I thought we played pretty good yesterday. It's something we can build on."
Haslett was in bed when Rosenbloom telephoned at 1:15 a.m. Monday to offer the job, including a say in personnel matters. He expects to do a much better job in his second head coaching stint, and will be less secretive, too, opening practices to media. Rick Venturi, assistant head coach and linebackers coach, was elevated to defensive coordinator.
Haslett will convene his first team meeting Tuesday. He wants to discuss matters with the coaching staff before choosing a quarterback for the Rams' next game, Oct. 12 at Washington, and would like to re-sign Brown.
Haslett said the Rams' talent is comparable to that of the Bills, who are 4-0.
"They have a couple of things we don't have right now," Haslett said. "They've got great confidence, they've got great swagger, they've got poise and they think they can win. Right now we're not at that level."
The Linehan era will be remembered as a mostly dreary time for the franchise. Martz helped the Rams win their only Super Bowl after the 1999 season and then led them to a second Super Bowl as coach in the 2001 season with an offense known as the "Greatest Show on Turf."
The Rams were 8-8 in 2006, Linehan's first season, rallying to win four of their last six games after Linehan turned over play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Greg Olson. Numerous offensive line injuries, beginning with seven-time Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace's season-ending shoulder injury in the opener, paved the way for the 2007 disaster. Linehan again relinquished the play-calling before this season, replacing Olson with Al Saunders.
He knew his job was in jeopardy Sunday, having been put on notice by Rosenbloom. So he emptied the playbook, going for first downs twice on fourth down and using a handful of trick plays, energizing the team, but only for one half, when it led 14-6.
The firing was the second in-season coaching change by the Rams this decade. Martz was replaced by interim coach Joe Vitt after five games in 2005 due to medical reasons, and then was fired the day after the season.
The last Rams coach removed during the season for non-medical reasons was Bob Waterfield, replaced by Harland Svare after eight games in 1962 when the franchise was in Los Angeles.