The broom of St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill began its work about two hours after his team's 27-16 loss to the Washington Redskins today at Busch Stadium.
Swept out was the regime of Coach Jim Hanifan, who compiled a record of 39-49-1 in six years here. Bidwill, who had called the 1985 season the most disappointing in the franchise's 26 years in St. Louis, did not waste time in dismissing his coaching staff.
Bidwill offered the following statement:
"I made the decision in the best interest of the team. Jim Hanifan is a fine man, a good football coach and a good friend. I wish Jim and his staff well in their future endeavors."
Said Hanifan: "Despite the extreme disappointment of the season, I'm leaving with a lot of good memories. Bill Bidwill always has been extremely fair to me as coach and to the entire organization."
And so it ended. The Cardinals' season of tattered hopes and remarkable ineptitude had been completed. What had seemed to be a fortress of talent collapsed like a house of cards.
The team lost 10 of its final 12 games to finish 5-11, a record that matched the worst in the franchise's 26 years in this city.
In the preseason, the Cardinals were hailed by many misguided souls as an NFC East favorite and a Super Bowl contender. Not only did the Cardinals fail to meet expectations, they couldn't reach mediocrity.
"Like Coach Hanifan was telling us, you can't put a finger on what did happen," guard Joe Bostic said. "It was just like a snowball that came down on us. When things started to go bad, the faster it got and the bigger it got. Pretty soon, you didn't know what the hell was going on."
By season's end, the Cardinals had completed the circle. The preseason kings had become court jesters. They lost to the Los Angeles Rams by 32 points and to the New York Giants by 31 in the final five weeks of the season.
"It's been an ugly experience," defensive end Al (Bubba) Baker said. "It's definitely put a scar in my life. It's the biggest disappointment I've ever had professionally. I thought this was the year, and it's been a letdown physically, emotionally and everything else."
Generally, the players did not blame Hanifan for the team's demise. But the fact is that the Cardinals appeared unprepared and slipshod throughout the season. But perhaps even more condemning was the team's lack of fire.
Hanifan always had been regarded as a good motivator, but he could not shake the team out of its lethargy.
"It's frustrating, extremely frustrating," Hanifan said before he learned of the firing. "We thought we had a really good football team. The worst thing in the world is to think you have a good football team and then have it go sour."
For the second year in succession, the Redskins put an end to the Cardinals' season. Last year, Washington prevented the Cardinals from making the playoffs and winning the NFC East by defeating St. Louis, 29-27, at RFK Stadium. This season, Washington weathered an early burst and buried the Cardinals.
The Redskins have won 17 of their last 20 meetings against St. Louis and have been in the middle of two St. Louis coaching changes. It was a 26-20 loss to the Redskins in 1977 that dropped the Cardinals out of playoff contention and prompted Don Coryell to angrily criticize Bidwill's organization and resign.
The only bright spot in the Cardinals' tarnished season was the play of running back Stump Mitchell. Despite starting just eight games, Mitchell was able to gain 1,006 yards in only 183 attempts. He reached the 1,000-yard plateau with a 64-yard dash on the Cardinals' final drive of the season.
"He's going to be our 1985 highlight film," quarterback Neil Lomax said. "That's it. It's going to be Stump going this way and Stump going that way.
"We've proven nothing to anybody. We've got a lot of work to do in every area, especially in my area as a quarterback.
"I never thought we would be 5-11."
Fired with Hanifan was his entire coaching staff: defensive coordinator Floyd Peters, offensive coordinator Dick Jamieson, line coach Ernie McMillan, running backs coach Chuck Banker, linebackers coach Rudy Feldman and defensive backs coach Lance Van Zandt.
Also dismissed were receivers coach Emmitt Thomas, special teams coach Jerry Smith, strength coach Pete Hoener and Leon McLaughlin, a special assistant to Hanifan.
The status of Harry Gilmer, who was named a special assistant during this season to help Lomax, was unclear, a team spokesman said.