Falcons coach Glanville delights in being NFL rebel with a cause

December 16, 1990|By Brian Schmitz | Brian Schmitz,Orlando Sentinel

The NFL may stand for the National Football League to you, but not to Jerry Glanville. Glanville, coach of the Atlanta Falcons, has always seen things differently from most off-the-rack folk.

He believes his players must play with the sensitivity of trained killers. He believes down and distance mean nothing when your playbook is jammed with asterisks and exclamation points instead of X's and O's.

He believes he'd rather get bitten by another snake than spend an afternoon with Chuck Noll or Sam Wyche. He believes some sportswriters wouldn't root for their mothers if they were flying into an airport on a plane that had lost two engines.

He believes a Harley-Davidson like his can get you places fast and make you look good doing it. He believes Elvis is alive and well, of course, even though The King didn't pick up tickets Glanville left for him at a game a few years ago. He believes the NFL, which often has the personality of a Buckingham Palace guard, needs a hotfoot from time to time.

And Glanville, the rebel with a cause, believes that NFL stands for "Not For Long."

Not For Long. Glanville believes a coach must feel to quote a line from his favorite Kris Kristofferson song ("The Pilgrim") that the going up was worth the coming down when the big, bad league tests your resolve. And Glanville, coach of the 3-9 Atlanta Falcons, is being tested.

"That's why it [the league] is not loaded up with a lot of people that don't have grit inside of them," Glanville says. "The easy riders in the league I've watched them they don't last long. They ride off into the sunset. Some of them go out sidesaddle.

"You've got to be tough enough to hang in there."

Glanville, 49, has no doubt that he will be around the NFL long enough to see the Falcons fly high, because "life without football is not life." That's what somebody wrote in his high school yearbook under his name. It fit. His future wife, Brenda, seeing him moping after a loss years ago, once suggested during a somber drive home from the stadium that "it was just a game." Glanville stopped the car and asked her if she wanted to walk home.

Glanville's intense love of the game and his renegade approach to it has taken him on a refreshingly relentless and rollicking journey through a league often devoid of color and characters.

He coaches the way he has lived: foot-through-the-floorboard.

He fought his way out of the projects in Detroit and seemingly never stopped swinging. He made up for his limited ability as a player with an "Iwo Jima-type" aggressiveness. Not surprisingly, he unabashedly promotes a brutal brand of "smash-mouth" football that many colleagues feel skirts the rules.

A stocky man whose shock of brown hair he says most coaches (such as Noll and Wyche) envy, Glanville also has a fun-loving side to ease the pressure. Famous for his run-ins with the media, he started a "Hug-A-Reporter Day" as Houston Oilers coach. He often compares his life with a sad country-and-western song and regards singers Kristofferson and John Cougar Mellencamp as friends. He started leaving tickets for Elvis two years ago as a joke, and he is a veritable stand-up comic at practices, calling players "darlin'" and "lassie." He visits the homeless with Brenda and their 7-year-old son, Justin often pulling over under an expressway to give a donation.

Glanville is a trip. He wants to be different because so many people aren't. He admires hard-working, down-to-earth people who are "close to the bone," meaning, "you dress however you want to, say whatever you have to say. People criticize you, but you couldn't care less. Most of the coaches who have criticized me are just mad because they don't have as much hair under their headsets as I do," he wrote in his hilarious book, "Elvis Don't Like Football."

Critics contend that Glanville is a creation of his own hype, more style than substance, more clown than coach.

Wyche, Cincinnati's coach, who has traded barbs with Glanville non-stop, sums him up in one word: "Phony."

Glanville has provided evidence that he can coach a little, too. He took the Oilers from doormats into playoff performers the past three seasons, but his overbearing personality and show-biz flair eventually wore thin. As Glanville says, "When you live close to the bone, you either bring out the best or worst in the people around you."

Quarterback Warren Moon wasn't teary-eyed over Glanville's firing/resignation, glad that the "circus atmosphere" had moved to Atlanta. Moon believed that players became distracted answering questions about Glanville, the Elmer Gantry in cleats.

The days when he swept the city of Atlanta off its feet with talk of "fire and brimstone and rock 'n' roll football" have given way to the grim reality that the young Falcons are still only good enough to break your heart, darlin'.

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