When George Halas hired Mike Ditka to coach the Chicago Bears in January 1982, Halas said, "I know he'll do a good job of getting people to play according to his desires."
Evidently, quarterback Bob Avellini did not play to Ditka's desires. With relatively little fanfare, Avellini, a former Maryland star, was released Monday after nine seasons with the Bears, three as a starter.
Ditka has acquired a reputation as a fiery, win-at-any-cost coach. "It gets a little tiring hearing that he's such a great competitor," Avellini said. "(Dallas Coach) Tom Landry is a great competitor, (Washington Coach) Joe Gibbs is a great competitor and so are a lot of other coaches, but you don't see any of them acting like Ditka does."
It's not uncommon to see Ditka ranting on the sideline during games. Intimidation is one of his primary motivators.
"I wasn't surprised I was cut," Avellini said. "He threatened me with that once a week. He thinks that's going to make you play better. After the first pass I threw this year against Green Bay (Sept. 16), he said he was going to cut me then, and I was the only quarterback who could play. He wanted to yank me out of there and put in someone that didn't even know our snap count."
Avellini relieved injured starter Jim McMahon in the second quarter against the Packers and went on to complete 11 of 17 passes in the Bears' 9-7 victory.
With McMahon still hurt, Avellini started against Seattle the fourth game of the season, completing 13 of 26 for 119 yards and one interception. (The interception came on a play Avellini had changed from the run ordered by Ditka to a pass with an audible. It was returned for a touchdown.) Third-string Rusty Lisch entered the game early in the fourth quarter and did not fare any better, completing six of 12 for 77 yards and two interceptions as Chicago suffered its first loss of the season, 38-9.
Before last week's 23-14 loss to Dallas, Ditka said if McMahon had not fully recovered from a hairline fracture of his throwing hand, Avellini still would not start. Ditka favored Lisch and fourth-string quarterback Steve Fuller.
"In the long-range picture for the Bears, the quarterbacks we have here now are better than Bob," said Ditka. "He wanted to do too much. He tried to go outside of our offense and that's something you just can't do. You don't go out and audible to throw a five-yard pass (the play against Seattle) when we have a runner (Walter Payton) who averages 5.7 yards per carry.
"He did everything we asked of him, and there were a lot of things I liked about him. But on my radio shows, the No. 1 question was, 'Why do you keep Avellini?'
"I can't play him here. The fans would boo him unmercifully. I don't want to use that as an out, but it's true. People have a tendency to blame the quarterback and to give him too much credit.
"No matter what he did (earlier this year) they would have booed because of the last nine years. There's no question about it."
"You've got to understand Mike Ditka," Avellini said. "McMahon, Lisch and Fuller were all his people. Unless you're a Walter Payton or a Matt Suhey or a Dan Hampton, the people left over from the old regime are just holding on until he can replace you with one of his own guys. He makes no bones about it. If he brings them in he wants to see them play.
"I still like those guys (McMahon, Lisch and Fuller), and we get along well. My loyalties are with the Bears and I really want to see the team do well because of the players."
Avellini's best season was 1977 when he passed for 2,004 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead Chicago to its first postseason appearance since the Bears won the NFL Championship game in 1963, defeating the New York Giants, 14-10. In that game Ditka caught three passes for Chicago.
Other NFL clubs have not shown interest in Avellini. "As of right now, no other team has contacted me, but I really haven't pursued it," he said. "That's not to say I wouldn't like to continue my football career.
"I'd like to get my life squared away first and get a foothold on something else and if football comes along, fine. I'd like to play football again, but unfortunately you don't have a choice in it one way or the other sometimes."