So many thoughts rattle around inside Joe Bugel's head. He is Boss Hog, 43-year-old assistant head coach in charge of the Washington Redskins' offense and, most meticulously, its offensive line.

Right now, the U.S. Football League's Pittsburgh franchise, which will begin operations next spring, is considering Bugel as a candidate to become its head coach. "I'm really not sure what I'll do yet," Bugel said at training camp today.

Bugel went to Pittsburgh Sunday and met with franchise owner Edward DeBartolo Sr. after receiving permission to do so from Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke and Coach Joe Gibbs.

Bugel insists he will not leave the Redskins this season, the final year of his three-year contract. "No doubt about that," he said. "No way will I leave the Redskins before this year ends."

But since the USFL season doesn't begin until March, Bugel could finish this year with Washington, then proceed in plenty of time to Pittsburgh, where he was born and raised.

"We have a target date," said Bugel. "Once I make a decision, I won't waver either way. I don't want to drag it out. I'll decide within a week. No longer than that."

Informed late last night that a television report had him already turning down the Pittsburgh team, Bugel said: "I'm still warm. I'm still considering."

The Redskins say they will not stand in his way. If Bugel chooses to accept Pittsburgh's offer, they will enjoy one final year of Bugel's intensity and hard work, then wish him well.

"It would be a hell of a loss," said General Manager Bobby Beathard.

"Obviously, this is a tribute to Joe, he's a top-flight assistant," said Gibbs, who lost Dan Henning from his staff last year. Henning is now the Atlanta Falcons' coach.

And what if Bugel decides this week that he is interested in the USFL?

"I'm sure that at that time Joe, Mr. Cooke and I would sit down and talk and decide what to do," says Gibbs. "But really I haven't thought about what we would do."

George Heddleston, general manager of the Pittsburgh franchise, said the still-unnamed team is considering four men as coach, all either offensive or defensive coordinators in the National Football League.

"Joe Bugel is just too good not to try for," Heddleston said. "For us, he's a natural."

Indications are Bugel is the team's first choice.

"If he is our man," said Heddleston, showing that Pittsburgh's interest in Bugel is high, "then we are willing to wait for him."

Bugel said he is balancing these points: career opportunity versus strong loyalty to Gibbs and his Hogs.

"I guess you're in this business to become a head coach," he said. Then, he added, "I have loyalty to Joe Gibbs because Joe Gibbs is loyal to me. He came after me three years ago and hired me. I'll never forget that. Maybe I'm crazy and maybe I'll never be a rich person, but loyalty comes first."

Several months ago, Bugel was critical when offensive guard Fred Dean left the Redskins for the money of USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits.

"The main difference between Freddie's situation and mine is I think money was his top priority whereas it's not mine."

So now Bugel, who has coached offensive lines 10 years in the colleges and the past nine in the NFL, sweats out his options. After Heddleston called him five days before the start of Redskins' training camp, then traveled to Washington where he and Bugel talked, Bugel said the thoughts started rattling.

"For four or five nights after I talked to George, I didn't sleep a wink. My wife and I just lay there, talking about it. I was trying to get ready for training camp, thinking about how to approach Joe (Gibbs) about all this and so many things were going through my mind I started to break out into hives."

Things haven't improved. "When I got back into my room after the coaches meeting at 1:15 a.m. (Thursday), I lay there, looking up at the ceiling, thinking to myself, 'Do I want to become a head coach in the USFL or remain a top assistant coach in the NFL?'

"I just have so much NFL ingrained in me that it would be tough to leave. Maybe that sounds crazy but I have NFL in my blood . . . The NFL is the thing.

"Sure, I have some doubts (about the USFL) in the back of my mind. I'm not sure I'm ready to take that kind of step, going into a new league. I like the caliber of football in the NFL. But most of all, I like the program I'm in. Joe Gibbs is not only a great coach, he's my best friend. He and Mr. Cooke have been so great with me."

"He's the best line coach in the NFL," said guard Mark May, one of the Hogs. "I think the Hogs would be hurt if he left. Things went so well last year, we're looking forward to keeping it going. But we understand. This is a great opportunity for him."

"He keeps me going when I'm down," said Nathan Newton, rookie offensive lineman. "It would be great for him to become a head coach, but sad for all of us if he leaves."

"Joe will get a (head coaching) job in the NFL soon," said Don Breaux, running back coach, echoing the feelings of the majority at training camp. "He's developed a great name and a great reputation around the league. He can afford to be selective."

"When I think about leaving the Hogs, I get a tear in my eye," Bugel said. "That's one of the big things why I would not leave here because I like the names Grimm, Jacoby, Bostic, May and Starke. Those five guys, I really love.

"It's like I've grown with them. I'll tell you what, I'm not ready to leave. Down deep, I say, 'God, I cannot leave that bunch.' "

Bugel gripped a film case with footage of his Hogs. With cupid's arrow sticking in his chest, tears, real tears, filled Boss Hog's eyes. He is a very emotional sort.

"So I guess you can tell which way I'm leaning right now, huh?" he said.