Several NFL coaches to receive pink slips this holiday season

PRO FOOTBALL

December 22, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

'Tis not the season to be jolly for several NFL coaches.

They know they're going to be seeing pink slips for Christmas, which tends to make the holiday season a downer.

John Robinson of the Los Angeles Rams joined Jerry Burns of the Minnesota Vikings in the resigned category last week. They quit before they were fired.

Richard Williamson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dan Henning of the San Diego Chargers figure to get the bad news this week.

Waiting to find out their fate will be Chuck Knox of the Seattle Seahawks, Rick Venturi of the Indianapolis Colts, Sam Wyche of the Cincinnati Bengals and Lindy Infante of the Green Bay Packers.

In a special category of his own -- befitting the only coach to win four Super Bowls -- is Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Noll apparently has a choice in the matter.

Dan Rooney, the team president, isn't revealing his hand. "When decisions are made, we'll announce them," he said.

But all indications are that Rooney will give Noll a choice. He can come back, if he makes changes on his coaching staff. This is a virtual replay of 1988, when Noll decided to stay and shake up his staff.

There's no question that firing offensive coordinator Joe Walton will be at the top of Rooney's list, if Noll wants to stay.

Noll has spent his entire adult life in pro football, starting in 1953, when he was a rookie guard with the Cleveland Browns. He was an assistant coach in Baltimore from 1966-68. He may decide he'll simply retire. He'll be 60 on Jan. 5.

When Noll was asked last week whether he still has the desire to coach, he said, "Sort of."

Nobody's sure if that was a signal that he was stepping down, or if he was simply playing games with the media. When he overruled Walton last week and restored quarterback Bubby Brister to the starting lineup, there was some thought that he might stay.

Even the players don't know what Noll will do.

As running back Merril Hoge said: "Chuck's one of the hardest persons to read. . . . We can [only] guess until we're blue in the face."

*

Robinson, who quit as the Rams coach, might well replace Bill Parcells at NBC in the network's rent-a-coach position.

If there was any doubt last week that Parcells is coming back to the sidelines, it was erased when he tried to hide the fact that he went into the hospital for a non-surgical procedure called an angioplasty to clear a blocked coronary artery.

Since there are no more gossipy worlds than pro football and network TV, it's hard to believe Parcells thought he could keep his hospital stay a secret. But NBC simply announced Sunday that he was taking a weekend off.

By Monday, word about his hospitalization was out, but the doctors have cleared him to coach again. The only question seems to be which Bay he's going to -- Tampa or Green.

The lure of coaching is strong for Parcells.

Bill Walsh, who has turned down all offers, including a shot to return to the 49ers front office, summed up the differences between TV work and coaching. "It [TV work] is a lot less taxing physically and mentally. You find yourself with more time to do things, play tennis, have a life, but it's definitely not as meaningful. There's nothing to grab onto and shape," Walsh said.

Parcells, 50, is 10 years younger than Walsh.

Robinson, incidentally, is a witty guy who might make a smooth transition to TV. Even when he announced his resignation, he took a jab at the fact that Georgia Frontiere, the owner, and John Shaw, the executive vice president, are rarely available for comment and had left the team complex before he made his announcement.

"As the Rams' only spokesman these nine years, it's my job to announce to you that I have submitted by resignation, and it has been accepted," he said with a smile.

*

Knox, who is on shaky ground in Seattle but coached the Rams for five winning seasons in the 1970s before being fired by the late Carroll Rosenbloom for running a boring offense and not winning the title, is openly campaigning to return.

"I have a lot of warm memories about Los Angeles, about the Rams, about the players, the fans, the ownership and everything," he said.

9- He did everything but mail in his resume.

In tennis, they call it tanking -- going through the motions and not caring about a loss. In pro football, they call it resting the veterans for the playoffs.

.` Coach Marv Levy of the Buffalo

Bills did it last year in the season finale at Washington in a game that didn't mean anything to either team. He played Gale Gilbert at quarterback in the second half (Jim Kelly was injured and Frank Reich went the first half) and gave Thurman Thomas just five carries (for no yards) before yanking him. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who doesn't believe in tanking, played Mark Rypien all the way at quarterback in a 29-14 victory.

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