Montana mess makes Seifert's eyeglass rope look like a noose

April 20, 1993|By Randy Galloway | Randy Galloway,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- George Seifert of the San Francisco 49ers. Known to be a nice man. Known to be intelligent. Known to be a good coach. By choice, however, he does wear a rope around his neck.

In his contribution to the surfer look, Seifert attaches the rope to his eyeglasses.

But when spotted on ESPN the other night, I swear that thing had become a noose. For his own welfare, I was hoping Seifert was being kept under close watch. You wouldn't want him to wander near any tree limbs.

In a strange scene, and embarrassing moment, Seifert faced the TV cameras to explain why, "on second thought," Joe Montana was now his starter at quarterback.

Old and crippled, Montana has played one half of one game in the last two seasons. But his "Holy Joe" status among 49ers fans, and those four Super Bowl rings he wears, and being a close personal friend of San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo, caused Seifert to be left hanging, so to speak.

Only last week, Seifert had stressed once again that Steve Young was his starter. Why not? Young has won two straight NFL passing titles, was the league MVP last season, and for free agency protection was named the 49ers "franchise" player. Other than that, Seifert had no reason to favor Young over the other guy, who has become a grumbling, trouble-making relic.

But Montana, while searching for another NFL home and finally choosing Kansas City last week, stopped by Youngstown, Ohio, to bunk in for the weekend with DeBartolo.

By Sunday, Seifert was saying Montana was now his starter. How ugly. How bad can a coach be made to look?

Either DeBartolo put the ultimate muscle on his coach, or this is a scam that continued yesterday when Montana announced it's time for a scenery change, and he wants to play in Kansas City. This, friends, removed DeBartolo and Seifert from the heat generated by 49ers fans who want to see Joe starting, regardless.

How does Montana benefit? By DeBartolo promising he will end up in K.C., even if the Chiefs' offer is inferior to that of, say, Phoenix.

But when a respected coaching figure like Seifert is yo-yoed by an owner -- and also lowers himself to issue public statements about the decision being totally his -- it makes me pick up the phone and call. . . . Valley Ranch.

Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, of course, also was watching TV as Seifert squirmed. His only comment was, "the more I see clubs in this league make decisions, it strengthens my belief we are doing it the right way."

But how many of us doubted that four years ago? Jerry Jones purchased the Cowboys and named Johnson much more than head coach. He was also his own player personnel director and, for football, his own general manager. One man doing all that in this highly sophisticated age of the NFL. Impossible? Sure.

It was, however, exactly the way Johnson wanted it. Eliminate all the middle men, with the decisions coming down to one football man and one owner. Jones and Johnson don't always agree. They have had spats and will have more. But it's also easily the best working arrangement in the NFL.

Another Dallas situation, however, may never happen again, even if the right two people were involved elsewhere.

"Free agency in the league will make it almost impossible," said Johnson. "There are owners out there who have been writing checks for years and staying out of football. They were listening to the general manager, the coach, the personnel guy, whomever. But with the dollars now involved, an owner wants more voice, and rightfully so. So you will be adding one more non-football person to the mix."

From day one, however, Johnson, under prodding from Jones, worked as closely with the financial aspects as with the Sunday game plan. "Budget decisions are an important part of my job," he said, "and I've been the first to say I'm much more prudent with company money than my own money.

"There are old-school coaches, however, who don't want to get involved with that, or, really, with personnel decisions either. They lean on a G.M. or personnel man. But my theory is the more voices you have, the more problems you have."

And when a voice belongs to the owner, and when he's still cozy with the has-been QB, no wonder George Seifert keeps a rope handy.

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