Ross weathering another rough beginning

PRO FOOTBALL

September 27, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

Bobby Ross is no stranger to hard times.

The former Maryland coach was an assistant in Kansas City in 1980 when the team started 0-4 and rallied to an 8-8 finish. As coach at Georgia Tech, he started 5-20 before winning 18 of the next 20 and a share of the 1990 national championship.

That didn't exactly prepare him for this year's 0-3 start as coach of the San Diego Chargers.

"I don't think it's ever easy when you lose," Ross said. "I'm not accepting it. I never will. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

It may be a long trip, though, to the end. His team is an 11-point underdog in Houston today, although it may be a plus that the game is on the road. The fans are restless and quick to boo in San Diego, and Ross even apologized to them after last week's 23-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"Everybody's on our case," Ross said. "I don't blame the people. They're frustrated. I'm not trying to come across as being persecuted. We probably deserve it. Hey, we've been here only three games, but that's not the way they see it."

The way the fans see it, the Chargers were 6-10 three years in a row and then went 4-12 last year.

Even the hiring of Bobby Beathard as general manager three years ago hasn't changed anything.

Beathard understands hard times, too. "It's not the coach. This guy is fantastic," Beathard said.

The last time Beathard hired a coach was in 1981, and Joe Gibbs started 0-5. You're well aware of how that turned out.

It didn't help that Ross' quarterback, John Friesz, was lost for the season in the first preseason game. The Chargers traded for Stan Humphries, but he's still feeling his way in San Diego.

Ross said the toughest thing for him to deal with as a coach in the pros isn't the on-the-field difficulties, but the off-the-field problems.

L "I don't like the contractual things. I hate it," Ross said.

"I'm a coach. That's how I see myself. You've got this, 'This guy may get a ruling in the court system and so on and so forth.' I'm really kind of uncomfortable with that stuff."

On the field, Ross sees positive signs.

"I'm really kind of upbeat. I feel that eventually, we'll be OK. We need to get that one win," he said.

Ross is finding out that sometimes, the first victory is the hardest.

The legal fight

Whenever there's a decision in the legal fight between the players and the owners, it's predictable that the two sides will have a different interpretation of its impact.

When federal judge David Doty freed four holdouts -- Philadelphia's Keith Jackson, Cleveland's Webster Slaughter, New England's Garin Veris and Detroit's D. J. Dozier -- last week, the players were quick to predict it will lead to all the players whose contracts expire at the end of this year being declared free agents.

The owners said they'll still be able to impose a new system with restrictions before Feb. 1.

Whatever happens, the players are sure to have more freedom thanthey do now, and it'll be interesting to see how high salaries will escalate with free agency.

They obviously will go up, but football owners may not turn out to be as free-spending as baseball's.

For example, the New Orleans Saints signed wide receiver Louis Lipps after he filed suit and was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Saints general manager Jim Finks said he signed Lipps for less than what the Steelers were offering him last summer.

Finks didn't disclose any figures, but the reports in Pittsburgh were that Lipps, who made $750,000 last year, was offered $1.8 million by the Steelers over two years.

A native of Reserve, La., Lipps was happy to go to New Orleans, but most players are looking for more cash.

The expansion derby

Baltimore officials aren't giving up on expansion, even though it has been delayed.

Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, is encouraged that he's still getting calls from the league for details on the Baltimore proposal.

Baltimore also tried to keep in the league's good graces last week after Sen. Barbara Mikulski blocked an amendment that would have delayed the Redskins' proposed Virginia stadium for an environmental impact study.

The stadium is still unlikely to be approved by the Virginia legislature, but Maryland Gov. William Schaefer wrote Mikulski that "this is the wrong time to send a message to the National Football League that the Maryland senator is not supportive of the NFL on this issue."

Belgrad, meanwhile, said he remains optimistic that when the "dust settles" in the legal fight in the next year, the owners will expand even without a collective bargaining agreement. Right now, though, that's a minority viewpoint.

Sam's tales

Sam Wyche, coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, jokes that he's not worried about quarterback injuries. He said his quarterback coach, Turk Schonert, is ready to go in at any time. Sam's available, too.

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