The announcement was not a spoof after all. Twenty-five days later Bud Wilkinson still was head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, looking almost regal in a frill-less office and saying:
"You don't build anything bankable in athletics, like you would in a business sense."
He was wrong, or at least he should hope so. For 15 years, Wilkinson has been drawing interest on a reputation as gaudy as that of any coach in any sport. And he needs every possible edge in trying to restore order to the NFL's most volatile team at the moment.
At 62, Wilkinson is a sharp contrast to his team. Calm and well ordered, with more than a slight coat of plastic, he actually had the nerve to say his new job ought to be "fun." This in the face of his center, Tom Banks, saying all manner of nasty thins about management and his best player, Terry Metcalf, dodging off to Canada.
The fellow Wilkinson replaced, Don Coryell, a mere 53, was wound to the last notch even before last season began. He constantly slept in his office and left in a rage over his lack of authority in selecting the players who would determine his destiny.
Wilkinson admits to "a fan's knowledge of the players in the NFL." He hardly sounds concerned, even though a slightly altered version of Casey Stengel's line applies to him. Stengel once said:
"Most of the people my age are dead." Professionally, that is the situation with Wilkinson's coaching colleagues.
It is tough to get a handle on Wilkinson's future, because no precedents come to mind When he was at his peak - the 1950s - Vince Lombardi was an obscure assistant at West Point and later the New York Giants. One of Wilkinson's quarter-backs, Darrel Royal, himself retired as a coach more than a year ago.
When Wilkinson left coaching, after the 1963 season, the Dallas Cowboys were four years old, the Minnesota Vilkings three. The Cardinals had been in St. Louis only five seasons. Joe Namath was a senior at Alabama; George Allen was an on-the-rise assistant with the Bears; Howard Cosell was not a household name even in New York.
Who could have imagined pro football no Monday nights? Or Wilkinson biting the hand that a generation later would lure him into the spotlight again? The secene is a Senate Antimonopoly Subcommittee in July of 1958 and Wilkinson is saying:
"I definitely am against the principle of the college player draft . . . Pro football argues the necessity of the draft, but I would be interested in dinding out if perhaps as many boys make good from the second 20 rounds as the first 20 selected."
Bud, here's your chance.
And here is one enthusiastic roar of hope that he makes good, if for no other reason than to give the NFL mystique a swift kick Wilkinson has hired what apears to be a fine staff so far - and there is evidence the NFL is in fact catching up to him rather than the other way around.
The 3-4 defense now suddenly in fashion was popularised, if not invented, by Wilkinson at Oklahoma. Probably, Wilkinson will devote more time to the Cardinal defense than the offense this season - and the 3-4 will be a staple.
Defense was the major item in the struggle between Coryell and Director of Operations Joe Sullivan last year. Sullivan wanted a more as ggressive defense; Coryell, or least his assistants, told him the Cardinals did not have the players to match that philsophy.
Publicly at least, Wilkinson does not permit a hair or piece of clothing or word to be misplaced. He does not so much give an interview as a lecture, pausing whenever he admits to anthing even slightly less than saintly to say: "Let's keep that out of the paper."
Wilkinson left football about the time Pro football players were beginning to think - or at least think they ough to be getting a larger slice of the financial pie and coaches and management should be less authoritarian. Will Wilkinson be able to adjust? Probably.
"The players must believe the coach is competent," he said, "deservingof their respect. The coach's job is to help the player play as well as he can. The player must be convinced this is the best way to play."
Metcalf's loss was especially tough, because he brought none of the draft-choice compensation that would have come had he signed the draft-choice compsenation that would have come had he signed with another NFL team. Still, the Cardinals have an extra first-round pick, from the Redskins, as a result of the Dave Butz trade.
Cynics in St. Louis now are beside themselves, insisting Owner Bill Bidwill is too stingly to keep excellent players, that Sullivan is not bright enought to draft excellent players and that Wilkinson is too old to inspire excellent players.
"I'm under no illusions about how tough it is to win," Wilkinson said. "Only time will tell." His statement that his return to coaching "is one of those things that came up and happened" seems plausible, because had he given the NFL, scene much prior thought he might well have found a better city for hos comeback.