Okay, coaches of America, pay attention. This is your first basic class in NFL Coaching 101. It is otherwise known as a survival kit for emergency use when the parachute doesn't open.
Let's say you inherit a good team that is aging rapidly. The front office is doing nothing to replenish the supply. You wheel out the baling wire and plastic tape and hold things together for one year. You even make a championship game. The next season, the patchwork becomes unglued. Does the front office come forward to take the blame? Students who even bother to answer that question fail this course. Management is impeccable. Coaching is awful. Say goodnight in Cleveland, Bud Carson.
Case 2: You've got a famous name and maybe you've been pushed ahead too fast. But finally you find a team trying to build from rock bottom. You take your shot at offensive coordinator. The offense jells and the team progresses from 1-15 to 7-9. The head coach is voted coach of the year. The offensive coordinator is demoted. Jimmy Johnson is hailed as King for Life of the Dallas Cowboys. David Shula is handyman around the castle, his contract renewable every six months.
Case 3: For several decades, soft-spoken Joe Collier maneuvered an underweight, undermanned Denver defense into title contention. But in Super Bowls, he lost by scores like 38-20. Enter a new defensive coach, Wade Phillips. No subtlety here. Ol' Wade, son of the equally forthright Bum Phillips, would meet the enemy head on. That way the Broncos could lose a Super Bowl by 55-10. Speaking of defensive coaches, consider Fritz Schurmur, the resident genius of the Rams defense. His unusual seven-defensive-back schemes were all the rage when the Rams were winning. Now translate rage into re'sume'.
Inevitably, this line of thinking brings us to Buddy Ryan. He took guys who were lulled to sleep by losing and woke them up in time to make the playoffs. He shook up guys who thought 5-11 was enough for a postseason ring, and showed them how much fun 11-5 could be. He didn't cater to the owner or the fans or the sponsors. He catered to the stars. And they ran through walls for him.
In last week's playoff, Ryan panicked. Down only seven points, he yanked Randall Cunningham in favor of that voice from the past, Jim McMahon. Or was it Ed McMahon? In any case, the move backfired. Randall was less inspired than insulted. Recalling that he has yet to play a decent playoff game in his career, Randall may have found it convenient to lay the blame on Buddy. It actually should have been apportioned among many Eagles. Guess which Eagle got fired?
With the troubled coaches dismissed from the playoffs, take a glimpse at the giants of the game who remain.
Don Shula still wields a terrible, swift sword. He parts the seas so running back Sammie Smith can find holes. He lights up the skies with Dan Marino's fireworks. The question remains: Under attack will he have to hold up his shield in supplication? And duck.
Marv Levy chews gum during the game. He can even chew gum and walk at the same time. But he has no presidential aspirations. Who would, when all life amounts to is turning loose the Bills and opening another Juicyfruit?
Art Shell is the largest coach. He looks as if he should strap on the old silver and black and block somebody. It would help.
George Seifert of the Niners, leader of the celebrated greatest team since Alexander the Great put together his pickup squad in Macedonia, still looks like he'd rather be teaching calculus back at Cornell.
Joe Gibbs is perhaps the most difficult coach to describe. He is iron-willed and soft-spoken, tempered steel with rubber coating. Maybe he's old-fashioned, clinging to one-back sets and pile-driving offenses in an era of teams that run and shoot. In the Baskin-Robbins store of life, he's vanilla. On your calendar of glitzy events, he's last week.
This brings us to our first pick of the week. The 49ers are 8 over Washington. The only chink in the Niners' armor is they are not quite as strong at home as on the road. The Redskins tend to find those chinks and the price is right. Skins plus 8.
The Bills are 6 1/2 over the Dolphins. I would love to ride with that aquamarine team of destiny. But Miami's best defender, John Offerdahl, probably won't play. And the Bills have a big edge in turnover differential. Since 1987, the Bills are 10-1 after losses, and they lost their last regular season game to the Skins. Bills minus 6 1/2.
The Giants are rated 6 1/2 over the Bears in a classic trench war. The numbers favor the Giants here. But I have a feeling that Mike Tomczak is gaining confidence, however incrementally, with every start. I also envision a low-scoring, three-point game. So I'll take the Bears plus the 6 1/2.
The Raiders are 6 1/2 over the Bengals. The Silver and Black is 3-0 at home against the AFC Central, and 4-1 at home against winning teams. Best bet on the board: Raiders minus 6 1/2.
Last week: The Eagles, giving 4 to the Skins, bid adieu to Buddy Ryan, 20-6. The Chiefs, getting 2 1/2 from the Dolphins lost a heartbreaker, 17-16, but won the bet. The Bengals, giving 3 1/2 to Houston, galloped, 41-14. And the Bears laying 6 1/2 held the anemic Saints without a touchdown in a 16-6 rocking chair.
Total for week: 3-1. Total for season: 45-44-1. Total for playoffs: 3-1.