To Young, football is game of mind over matter

John Steadman

January 24, 1991|By John Steadman

TAMPA, Fla. -- Applying force and finesse on a football field impresses George Young, general manager and architect of the New York Giants. But always, apart from establishing a physical presence, he scores high points for aptitude and attitude. Just like the schoolteacher he used to be.

Young, of course, knows there's no way to think the ball across the goal line in the National Football League. Nor in the Ivy League, either. The point he pounds home with relentless

persistence, as if it's third down and a yard to go, is the value of education. "Exercising our brain is the greatest gift we have," said Young, 60. "Most of us don't do it enough because you can't get too smart."

Before Young joined the New York Giants 11 years ago, he worked for the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Colts. But, to him, it was more meaningful to have taught in the Baltimore City Public School system -- two years at Garrison Junior High and 13 at City College.

"I'm a student first, a teacher second," he said. "I never get bored trying to learn. I've seen enough Bubbas, as they say about good ole boys down South. Young people shouldn't be put down. All they need is someone to push them to higher standards and give them credit when they succeed."

Young's profoundness hasn't hurt him or the Giants. The team he brought out of the doldrums of despair had trouble getting off the scrimmage line. The Giants hadn't been to a playoff in 15 years before he arrived.

"This isn't a business for a rocket scientist. And if any rocket scientists were here they wouldn't last long. They'd be doing something else rather than an involvement in pro football."

So Young doesn't equate football with genius. But slow-thinkers, he says, can't qualify. When he joined the Colts, at the suggestion of then coach Don Shula and personnel director Upton Bell, one of his first moves was to turn to a fellow educator in Baltimore, Dr. Herb Stern, who directed guidance programs.

"I asked him for several sets of tests used for evaluation. What he provided were used by the Colts right away, in 1968, some time before the Dallas Cowboys got into something similar. Scouts can tell ability. You only need to check films."

Chuck Noll was then an assistant coach of the Colts and saw the testing value. He became head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and duplicated the effort there. Plus, it was copied by the scouting combine. The results give a more insightful look at a potential draftee's basic knowledge, learning skills and motivational traits.

An interesting phase of Young's background is at one point he was teaching history/political science at City College but coaching at Calvert Hall, his high school alma mater. Meanwhile, he was acquiring two master's degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Loyola College.

But most of his coaching was at City, where he had a 60-12 record at one point and used the present mayor of Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke, as his quarterback for three undefeated seasons.

The Colts put him to work part time because Shula and his coaches wanted to go to Las Vegas for a week of vacation after the Pro Bowl. Shula and Bell wanted someone with football knowledge to look at films of college prospects.

"I wasn't auditioning for a job. I didn't seek the NFL. I merely told the coaching staff all I had seen in the college game movies and they then looked at some of the same films themselves."

That led to Shula hiring Young, first in Baltimore and then with the Miami Dolphins. He became general manager of the Giants in 1979, and his responsibilities cover the entire football operation -- hiring coaches, drafting, trading and signing players.

The fact he played football at Bucknell, was the last player cut by the Dallas Texans in 1952 and then became a coach offers an understanding of all aspects of the game. Still he keeps reflecting on his formative years in Baltimore, his old hometown.

Young says he's eternally grateful to the Brothers of Mary who taught him at St. James School and the Christian Brothers at Calvert Hall. "My eighth-grade teacher said 75 percent of the things in life we wouldn't like but the other 25 percent would be a joy. That makes it worthwhile because you learn to adjust."

George Young, to be sure, knows all about X's and O's in football but he didn't come in on a load of coal.

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