Linebackers Coach Lindsey: Gruff and Ready

By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005

Dale Lindsey has all the attributes expected of an old-school linebackers coach in the NFL: knees scarred by six surgeries to repair ligament and cartilage damage? Check. A militaristic streak? Check. An expletive-heavy vocabulary? Check that one twice.

A self-described curmudgeon who became an expert by playing eight years at linebacker in the NFL, Lindsey once caused a player to cry on the field. But it isn't the constant pain -- he has bone-on-bone contact in his right knee -- that makes Lindsey perpetually grouchy.

"I can't say that. I'm naturally that way," Lindsey, 62, said recently with a rare half-smile. "Some people are [jerks]. They have to work at it. I was just born that way. I'll take the label."

Lindsey's unabashedly gruff style was formed during a peripatetic, 28-year coaching career that included stops in the Canadian Football League, United States Football League and World Football League. Lindsey -- who has postponed the knee-replacement surgeries his doctor says are essential -- has been a linebackers coach in the NFL for 14 seasons, including with the Redskins in 1997 and 1998. He has such a passion for coaching that he once switched from professional football to high school despite a precipitous drop in salary.

Last season, Washington's defense finished third in the NFL and tops in the NFC. Gregg Williams has garnered most of the spotlight as Washington's assistant head coach-defense. But Williams has been helped by a well-regarded staff: Greg Blache, the de facto line coach, has received the most attention among assistants. And Williams predicts that his young assistants such as cornerbacks coach Dewayne Walker will eventually become NFL defensive coordinators.

But Lindsey has done an impressive job overseeing linebackers, which Williams considers the heart and soul of his complicated defense. By early last season, Washington's linebacker corps was without starters Mike Barrow and LaVar Arrington. But Antonio Pierce and Lemar Marshall emerged from obscurity to give the team a strong linebackers unit.

"I'd admit on the field I'm rather curmudgeonly," Lindsey, who played with the Cleveland Browns from 1965 to 1973, said with pride in his voice. "It's how I was raised in the game. It's very serious stuff to me. I don't take it half-[heartedly]. I'm not going to put up with someone that takes it half-[heartedly]."

Williams added, "He doesn't have a lot of sympathy for that position when you played nine, 10 years in the league in that Jim Brown era he played in."

Lindsey's NFL career, according to his linebackers, allows him to convey things better than coaches who never played professional football. "He understands some of the things you go through," Marcus Washington said. "Some of the same things that you see."

Lindsey starred in football, basketball and track and field at Kentucky's Bowling Green High. After a standout career at Western Kentucky, Lindsey was drafted by the Browns in the seventh round in 1965. He entered rookie camp as the fifth-string middle linebacker, but beat the odds to become a starter by his second season. Lindsey maintained that role until after the 1973 season, when he walked into the office of head coach, Nick Skorich, and said that his knees no longer could take the pounding.

Lindsey has a reputation for developing players by demanding a level of play that initially seems beyond their means. His players say that Lindsey acts as if each of them has Pro Bowl potential. And fellow assistants describe him as a perfectionist with a strong work ethic and blunt manner.

"He always gives you a brutally honest answer, emphasizing the term brutal ," said Blache, laughing. "He'd be a [natural] on 'Grumpy Old Men.' He's a good person, though. There's just nothing phony about him."

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