ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Mike Martz will have to wait a while to inherit the St. Louis Rams coaching job, because Dick Vermeil is enjoying himself too much.
Vermeil, 63, has two years to go on the five-year deal that launched his coaching comeback in 1997, and retirement is not an option no matter what happens with his first postseason action in 18 years.
''I plan to coach my contract, I really do,'' Vermeil said as the NFC West champions prepared for Sunday's playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. ''After that, I'll have to re-evaluate my situation. But right now my basic thought is to do the best job I can within my contract.''
Vermeil doesn't want the organization to lose Martz, though, so for the first time he endorsed him as his replacement.
''We've got fine people like Mike Martz, and I'd like him to be groomed in the organization and ready to take over when I step out of here,'' Vermeil said.
But, as he said, that time is not near.
''I think we've got a real strong foundation, a core of real good players and coaches,'' Vermeil said. ''Not that it was that bad when I took over, but we'd been struggling, and I'd like to reap some of the rewards, too.
''I'd like to share as many good years as bad years, anyway.''
Players and staff weren't a bit surprised.
Defensive line coach Carl Hairston, who played for Vermeil's 1980 Super Bowl team (the Philadelphia Eagles), said he believed Vermeil would want to return even if his contract was up. The topic of retirement has never come up.
''I don't see that, I don't sense that, I don't feel that,'' Hairston said. ''He has regained his passion for the game.''
Vermeil has been loose and almost jovial this week. That's a marked contrast to the NFC West champions' bye week when he snapped at reporters' questions and talked about restricting player appearances and narrowing the focus for the playoffs.
Players say last week's behavior was an abberration from a coach temporarily cast adrift. Defensive tackle D'Marco Farr said Vermeil's outlook improved immediately once the Vikings emerged from the wild card weekend as the opponent and he could discard the Cowboys and Lions from his thoughts.
''He's a much changed man from last season,'' Farr said. ''When we win a game, he can enjoy it, and if we lose, it's not the end of the world. You've just got to figure out what happened and move on.''
Farr said a telltale sign that Vermeil is getting too tense is when he paces back and forth in practice ''like he doesn't know which way to go.'' The cure: ''We just go up and give him a hug.''
Vermeil is needing that less and less these days. This time around, he vows there will be nothing close to burnout.
''I was so damn intense the last playoff game I coached, and that's just my nature,'' Vermeil said. ''I'm older and hopefully wiser. Right now, I think the best thing we can do is keep doing what we've been doing and try to find a way we can do it better.''
Players expected Vermeil to ratchet things up, but so far it's been business as usual. He even gave them a week off from weight training.
''He's not tightening the clamps or anything like that,'' free safety Devin Bush said. ''We're just going through our normal progression, our schedule that we've done the whole year. The only difference is there's a lot more media.''
Vermeil said there's no way the Rams will turn conservative against the Vikings, noting that the St. Louis offense is the NFL's best because it's so aggressive.
''We only know one way to play,'' Vermeil said. ''It doesn't matter: first quarter, second quarter, first snap, last snap, we attack. We're not going to change one thing.''
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