Burham (Bud) Wilkinson was named yesterday as the new coach of the St. Louis Cardinals and the announcement raised the questions as to whether the former coach at the University of Oklahoma can do the job after 15 seasons away from the profession and at age 61.
Will the parade have passed him by or is the sport, as most coaches insist, "just blocking and tackling"?
Otto Graham, who took over as head coach of the Washington Redskins after 11 years away from the professional game, said from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, "If I had to make a guess, I'd say Bud will do very well."
A pro football figure currently active in a management role with a successful NFL club, said, "Wilkinson's problem will be in dealing with the present generation."
He asked not to be identified. He agreed with Graham, without being told of the Coast Guard Academy athletic director's remarks, that an important factor will be securing assistant coaches who have kept up with the game.
Graham, who came to the Redskins after coaching at the academy and was fired by Washington after three losing seasons, said from New London, Conn.," I would never believe the 'parade has passed by' Bud.
"He was a highly successful college coach; he has charisma, personality, administrative ability, and is very intelligent. He can be the disciplinarian. He has all the tools. I'm not concerned about him being 15 years away from coaching. He won't take long to catch up.
"It will depend on his assistants to carry him over for a period of time. A lot of guys coaching don't know football. I have only one doubt about Bud:
"He won with the split-T formation at Oklahoma. Oklahoma threw the ball very seldom.
"I don't expect he can be as knowledgeable about passing as he needs to be in pro football Lou Holtz tried the veer offense with the New York Jets and had the same trouble. That is why it is so important to have assistants who do know the passing game.
"As far as knowing football, what about all the coaches (11) who have been fired recently? If they knew so much, why were they fired? I hope Bud is smart enough to have a long-term contract and he is smart enough."
Wilkinson's contract is for four years.
The unnamed figure wondered, "How can Wilkinson coach a pro (assistant) coach? He was never a pro player himself.
"I was shocked when I heard the announcement. I couldn't believe it. There are not many pro assistants available now, with all the head-coaching jobs filled (some have left the Cardinals).
"I'd say Wilkinson's big problem is, how to handle today's players. They change in attitude about every five or six years.
"Today, you don't get loyalty. In Wilkinson's time, the coach had the players in part-time servitude. Now, they will tell you to go jump in the lake. If you don't know what you're doing and they find out, you're dead.
"They're spoiled rotten in college and their agents give them an inflated opinion of their value. It's better for you to conform to them than to try to make them conform to you.
"Tom Landry and Don Shula have adjusted to them. Paul Brown and some others did not and they are not coaching anymore. They demanded servitude. The Cardinals have more players unsigned than any other club.
"Wilkinson is a good coach. He has the knowledge. He'll catch up. That's not the problem. He'll have to get assistants who know how to handle today's players."
Wilkinson was reported as taking note of the player problems at St. Louis and said, "I would assume that it's easier to motivate with a dollar than an ideal, although I believe we'll have idealism as well as dollar signs."
When reference was made to his 61 years, Wilkinson said, "You're talking about my insurance age. I think I'm relatively current. Pro football is a high level of sophistication, but I think the factors which win are the same at any level."
Although he has been away from coaching, Wilkinson had been a closeup observer of the sport as an analyst on telecasts of college games for many years.
"There are two ways you win football games -- stopping the opposition and getting the ball and scoring yourself," he said. "You won't win a lot receiving kickoffs. It's very important to play defense."
Turning his attention to his chief obstacle in the NFC Eastern Division, Wilkinson said, "You don't beat Dallas without some defensive play. If you're good enough to beat somebody on a given day, that's the way you must stay."
To improve immediately on the performance of predecessor Don Coryell, Wilkinson will need only to beat the 7-7 finish by the Cardinals in 1977.
Wilkinson was the most successful college coach when he retired at Oklahoma in 1963, with a 139-24-4 record for 17 seasons.