There is something ghostly and cold about this windowless office, the white walls, the just-out-of-the-box furniture, the poster of a polar bear standing on an ice floe as he peers into the freezing sea for food, Ray Jauch's white hair.
For eight weeks, Jauch has sat in this room, six mornings a week, viewing and re-viewing films of the team he coaches, the Washington Federals. No two of the team's seven losses follow precisely the same dramatic lines, but they are all tear-jerkers to their audience of one.
One week, two defensive backs will smack into each other while the opposing receiver saunters off, ball in hand, toward the goal line. The next week a center will blow a snap to the punter and the game will be thus punted. There are many ways to lose and the Federals, with a kind of twisted, involuntary patience, seem to be discovering them all.
Jauch watches these horror shows flicker on the wall of his white room. After the losses, his eyes are always a little rheumy, and he cannot feel too much better after reliving his Sundays on film.
"Undoubtedly it gets harder every week," he said in his office at RFK Stadium the other day. "You go along, you try, and you continue to get disappointed. I can get up there and talk all I want to the players. But it comes down to individuals and how well they can perform their responsibilities on their own."
There are few individuals whose work is evaluated so publicly and regularly as that of a coach. Even though Jauch and other coaches in the U.S. Football League began this February from absolute zero, they cannot grow up in private, and Jauch has had the worst beginning of the bunch.
"If you're going to be in this business, you have to accept that scrutiny," he said. "If you start to worry about what other people say about you, you burn out. You have to make the moves that you feel are right."
No players on the team at present have challenged Jauch's coaching, his decisions, his easygoing style. The management has been firmly behind him. But Donnie Harris, the former Redskins safety who was released by the Federals at his own request last week, questioned the atmosphere created by the team's ever-shifting roster.
"I think a lot of guys on this team are really uptight, nervous about whether they're going to play or even be there the next day," said Harris, who lost his starting position to Mike Guess after a number of costly errors. "The team might look loose on the practice field, but inside I think people are tight."
Harris expects to sign with the Chicago Blitz and George Allen, a coach of a far different temperament.
Jauch spent the last decade coaching the Edmonton and Winnipeg teams of the Canadian Football League, usually to winning records and playoff appearances. He took this coaching job hoping it would be his last in football. His wife and four children left a comfortable situation in Winnipeg and headed south for the unknown--an unknown league, an unknown team, an unknown town called Fairfax City.
"This has all been hard on my family," Jauch said. "I'm not 30 years old anymore. I'm 45. I thought this would be my last move. In football, coaches, especially the younger ones, are always looking for something better, another job, maybe the NFL. But for me, the satisfaction now is the relationships you form with the players.
"In Canada, one of the most important parts of a coach's job is identifying high school players who might someday be a pro. You pick them out and you help them get scholarships and one day they might come and play for you . . .
"Here, it's kind of a business deal between you and the players. And I understand that . . . You make an economic agreement with a player and he'll go out and do a job for you. If he's a professional, you don't really even need to have a relationship with the player . . . But it still means a lot to me to have those relationships. My feeling is that if you have a certain rapport with a guy, he's going to go out and be better for you on the field."
In the locker room or on the practice field, Jauch will often take a player aside for a private huddle. He seems almost embarrassed to reprimand a player in front of the team, and when he does so, it is sotto voce.
"No, I don't run a slave-ship practice," Jauch said. "Practices are kind of boring--I'd rather play the game. What we try to do in practice is try to keep it from becoming boring without losing our mental intensity."
Occasionally that intensity has waned. His reaction is characteristic.
One afternoon, defensive end Coy Bacon was ignoring practice, standing 50 yards away from the action. From far away, Jauch watched Bacon chat and joke with a teammate. Impassively, Jauch waited until he could suffer it no longer:
"Coach Bacon! Would you mind joining us here at practice?"
The intention was caustic but the voice could never cut too deeply. Bacon, who is only five years younger than his coach, just returned to the huddle with a sheepish smile.
"Thank you, Coach Bacon," Jauch said.
"I think Ray's approach probably works best for the veterans, guys who know what the pro game is all about and what they should be doing," said one player who asked not to be named. "I'm just not sure how well it works with some of the kids. They might take advantage of it in little ways."
For a veteran such as Joe Gilliam, Jauch has been a gift. Gilliam once provided his coaches, teammates and, above all, himself with so much turmoil; he seems at ease here. Last week, after Jauch benched Gilliam in the second half, the press continued to ask the former Steelers quarterback if he was annoyed.
Gilliam's arm around Jauch's shoulder answered the question.
"He's given me a chance," Gilliam said. "That's all I ever wanted."
In preparation for Sunday's game against the Birmingham Stallions, Jauch looked over his notes and surveyed the depth chart hanging on his wall. Certainly there is talent there--running backs Craig James and Billy Taylor, linemen Dave Pacella and Tony Suber, defensive back Mike Guess--but so far that talent has been overshadowed by the misfortunes and near-misses that Jauch reviews in his films each week.
"You know, I can't complain at all," he said. "I've had the support. We have good coaches. There's talent here, I believe that. I'm just sorry we've lost so many games."
And then, a few minutes later, Ray Jauch clicks off the lights and tries to find a way to win.