What got Ryan the gate was style, not substance

PRO FOOTBALL

January 13, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

In pro football, where winning and losing are supposed to be the only things that count, style sometimes is more important than substance.

Just look at coaches Jim Mora and Buddy Ryan.

In five years as Saints head coach, Mora has gone 46-35, including an 0-2 playoff mark. Ryan went 43-38-1 in five years as Eagles head coach, including an 0-3 playoff mark. Both lost their first playoff game last weekend.

But nobody was suggesting that Mora should be fired. After the Saints sneaked into the playoffs with an 8-8 mark, he even lashed out at reporters for writing off his team when it was 2-5.

Meanwhile, Ryan, who went 10-6 this season, was fired.

Make no mistake about it. He wasn't fired for for losing in the playoffs or even for yanking Randall Cunningham in the third quarter against the Washington Redskins.

He was fired for being Buddy Ryan. Eagles owner Norman Braman was tired of his rambunctious ways.

Braman, though, may live to regret the move. Sure, Ryan didn't get to the Super Bowl. But you can't sneeze at winning 10 games a season. That's not as easy to do as Braman seems to think it is.

Ryan was the seventh coach in the past decade to be fired or depart under strained circumstances after taking a club to the playoffs.

The other six were Bum Phillips of the Houston Oilers, Walt Michaels of the New York Jets, Leeman Bennett of the Atlanta Falcons, John Mackovic of the Kansas City Chiefs, Marty Schottenheimer of the Cleveland Browns and Jerry Glanville of the Houston Oilers.

The Oilers stayed about the same this year with Jack Pardee. All the other teams declined.

It's unlikely that Rich Kotite will be the answer in Philadelphia. He made a smart move by becoming friends with Cunningham in his first year, but he hasn't taught Cunningham an offense. Cunningham's improvised plays aren't enough.

In three games against the Redskins, Kotite's offense produced three offensive touchdowns -- two on drives of 33 and 9 yards after turnovers.

Kotite is a nice man who won't rock and the boat and cause Braman any heartburn. Braman, though, may find out there are worse things than losing the first playoff game. Like not making the playoffs.

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More Eagles:

Ryan's departure puts more pressure on Cunningham because of the perception that he was involved in that departure and that Kotite was hired because Cunningham likes him.

Dan Hampton, the Chicago Bears defensive lineman who likes Ryan from the days when Ryan was the team's defensive coordinator, said: "The thing that bothers me the most is that for two or three years, Buddy Ryan went to bat for Cunningham, saying he was the best player in the game and basically got Randall a $3 million contract. As soon as things didn't go right, just the way Randall wanted them to go, Randall found a soft spot to put the knife in."

Hampton pointed out that Cunningham has yet to throw a touchdown pass in three playoff games.

Cunningham denies he was involved in the firing, although he made it obvious how unhappy he was about being pulled.

But perception sometimes is as important as reality, and if things don't go well next season, Cunningham will be getting a lot of the blame.

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The coaching derby:

Ryan doesn't seem likely to be back on the sidelines next season.

Two teams, the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are looking for coaches, and neither has shown any interest in him.

The Bucs still would like to lure Bill Walsh out of the broadcast booth, and the Browns' search is still wide-open.

They were interested in Bobby Ross, the Georgia Tech coach, but he said he wasn't interested in them.

Ross is in the catbird seat. It appears he can have an Atlantic Coast Conference power for the next few years and will remain a hot candidate for other jobs. If Lou Holtz doesn't last much XTC longer at Notre Dame, Ross could wind up with college football's best job.

Another possibility is the Atlanta Falcons if Glanville self-destructs in another year or two. Since Ross is in Atlanta, he'd be an easy choice.

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More coaching derby:

There were even shake-ups in the assistants' ranks last week. John Robinson, the Los Angeles Rams coach, fired his defensive staff, including coordinator Fritz Schurmur, who had been a head coaching candidate just a year ago.

There was some speculation that Robinson fired the defensive assistants as part of a deal to keep his job, but Robinson said it was his decision.

In another surprising move, Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson demoted offensive coordinator David Shula, the son of Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, to receivers coach. Johnson is going to bring in a new coordinator.

There was speculation that David Shula might leave, but he said he's going to stay, although he said he thinks he's being made something of a scapegoat for the team's offensive problems.

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