'Boss Ross' is a hoss in pro debut, and Chargers hhave ridden him to playoffs

January 08, 1993|By Greg Cote | Greg Cote,Knight-Ridder

MIAMI -- Pop quiz. One question, multiple choice. Eyes straight ahead. No cheating.

The San Diego Chargers are in the NFL playoffs because:

A) 248-pound running back Marion Butts chews clocks like he chews meals, and linebacker Junior Seau plays his game like he says his name -- Say Ow!

B) Defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger hauled himself out of coaching retirement and reminded us that the genius cap still fits.

C) Personnel wizard Bobby Beathard proved that his eye for talent sees 20/20 in San Diego just like it did in Washington, D.C.

D) Whatshisname has done a pretty fair job as a rookie coach.

If you said A, B or C, you are correct. If you said D, you are correct, and unusual. Give yourself extra credit, my friend.

Bobby Ross. Yes. "Boss Ross."

There may not be a coach in the playoffs who has done a better job than the one who will try to end the Miami Dolphins' season Sunday at Joe Robbie Stadium. There certainly is not a coach in the playoffs who has seen his spotlight split so many ways.

Arnsparger is the only assistant in the league this year who has gotten as much attention as his boss. Beathard may be the only general manager-type who is as well known as most coaches. Fans seem to credit the Chargers' stout defense and power running with only a token nod to the one man whose lariat pulled everything together and put San Diego in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

Boss Ross. Out west they had begun to call him Bobby Loss after the 0-4 start. And what the heck did this college coach out of Georgia Tech (and Maryland before that) think he was doing in the NFL? He was no Jimmy Johnson, they said. He was no miracle for a cellar franchise in need of one.

"There was quite a bit of negative writing, quite a bit said, and some finger-pointing," Ross, 56, says now. "But the negative things were unfair; we'd only been though four games."

It used to be a stigma in the NFL. A college coach wasn't ready for an NFL top job without a few years' apprenticeship as a pro assistant. Forget that now. Jimmy J disproved that myth in Dallas. And both men who made the leap in '92 -- Ross and the Vikings' Dennis Green (Stanford) -- made the playoffs.

The Chargers bring a 12-5 record here, including last week's 17-0 shutout of Kansas City. Pittsburgh had the same record as San Diego this season, but the Steelers only had to crawl up from 7-9. Yet Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher beat out Ross for the Associated Press Coach of the Year award. (Maybe because Cowher didn't have Arnsparger and Beathard to help him?)

"I'm pretty boring," Ross said earlier this year, of his tendency tobe overlooked.

Nothing flashy here. No great quotes. Married 33 years. Father of five. Grandfather. A creature of routine, a man who rises at 5 a.m. and eats Cream of Wheat. A man whose lunch is a peanut butter sandwich and milk. Every day.

But Bobby Ross, like most of the rest of us, isn't giving Bobby Ross enough credit. No other team ever overcame an 0-4 start and made the playoffs.

What this man did, most importantly, was instill a sense of unity and direction in a club that had neither.

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