Ex-Colts coach Dowhower glad to steer Redskins' horses

August 08, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

CARLISLE, Pa. -- Nine years ago, Rod Dowhower was one of the rising stars of the NFL coaching profession.

A coach who had played for Don Coryell and worked under Bill Walsh, he was a St. Louis Cardinals assistant running a high-powered offense that featured Neil Lomax, Ottis Anderson and Roy Green.

The Cardinals scored 423 points in 1984 (they haven't scored that many in a season since) and came within a missed field goal in the final game of winning the division title. The result was that Dowhower was being mentioned around the league as a head coaching candidate.

That's when he made a decision that came close to derailing his career. He accepted an offer from owner Bob Irsay to become coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

"If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't do it," said Dowhower, who was 41 when he became the Colts' coach in 1985. "I think what I thought was, it was a tremendous challenge if I could succeed and get it done. It was a lot to overcome. I didn't realize some extenuating circumstances."

One of those circumstances, of course, was Irsay.

Irsay has owned the Colts 22 years (12 years in Baltimore and 10 in Indianapolis) and his team has yet to win a playoff game.

He has had 11 coaches in those 22 years -- Ted Marchibroda is on his second stint -- and they've all been unsuccessful.

Dowhower, though, won't discuss any specifics about what it was like coaching for Irsay.

"I think I've got to be a little careful about what I say," he said. "I signed an agreement in the end there. Hey, it's all in the past. I've always had the philosophy that you make your own bed and sleep in it."

Dowhower lasted 29 games under Irsay, winning five, and was fired after starting 0-13 in 1986 with rookie quarterback Jack Trudeau.

Dowhower tried to be patient during the losing streak.

"When you get on a negative roll like that, there's one of two tacks you take," he said. "Are you going to berate the players and rip them? I decided not to do it. I couldn't see how I could do that when we were playing a rookie quarterback."

Not only did Irsay fire Dowhower,but he also tried to avoid paying off his three-year contract on the grounds that Dowhower had breached his contract by not calling Irsay every week.

Former commissioner Pete Rozelle ruled Irsay did have to pay Dowhower, but the settlement prevents Dowhower from making negative comments about Irsay.

About all Dowhower will say is that Irsay is a man with "a lot of deep-seated idiosyncrasies." He added: "He takes a lot out of you."

Dowhower also takes some blame.

"I learned a lot from it," he said. "I will say this: Hey, there are some things I could have done better and suffered from a lack of experience dealing on that level with those types of individuals."

Dowhower, meanwhile, was left with the task of salvaging his career.

"That wasn't a minor setback, that was a major setback in my career," he said. "On the surface, it just looks like another coach who lost a lot of games."

Dowhower spent three years as an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons before he was hired by Joe Gibbs (with whom he played at San Diego State) as the Redskins' quarterbacks coach in 1990.

"Working for Joe Gibbs and the Redskins got me back in the mainstream of things in the league," he said.

Dowhower got a Super Bowl ring two years ago and, when Gibbs resigned in March, new coach Richie Petitbon elevated Dowhower to offensive coordinator.

Dowhower is finally back, running one of the league's top offenses. He makes his debut as the Redskins' play-caller tomorrow night in the team's preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns at RFK Stadium.

Petitbon, the Redskins' defensive coordinator until this year, matched wits with Dowhower in the past and he likes Dowhower's play-calling skills.

"That's the thing that impressed me when we played against them," Petitbon said. "I think, in the final analysis, that's the thing that makes good coordinators, the plays they call and when they call them. He seems to understand how to attack your defense."

There will be pressure on Dowhower, too. Gibbs called the plays the past 12 years, and he was a master. Dowhower, though, doesn't seem intimidated by the task.

"It's a challenge. It's exciting," he said. "It's dealing with the players at a different level. If you work every day toward your final goal, it all adds up for you and when you're confronted with game-day calls, they're a lot easier to make."

Since the Redskins are a high-profile team, Dowhower could be in the running for another head coaching job if he's successful, but he's not thinking ahead.

"I'm not concerned about that right now," he said. "I'm not going to give it a lot of thought."

He knows, though, that if he ever gets another shot, he'd still be haunted by the Indianapolis fiasco.

"If I were to be a head coach, I'd have to get off to a tremendous start," he said. "I doubt very much there'd be much laxity in terms of your success-failure rate, but, hey, that's true in any of this."

Dowhower's next task is to have a good success rate with the Redskins.

NOTES: WR Desmond Howard says he's only about 70 percent since returning from a groin injury, but he'll play against the Browns. He's made a spectacular diving catch in practice Thursday night. "I think he's making the plays we all expected him to make," Petitbon said.

REDSKINS PRESEASON

3'

Date .. .. Opponent .. .. .. Time

Aug. 9 .. .. .. vs. Cleveland .. 8 p.m.

Aug. 14 .. .. .. at Miami .. .. ..8 p.m.

Aug. 22 .. .. .. at Pittsburgh .. 8 p.m.

Aug. 27 .. .. .. vs. N.Y. Jets .. 8 p.m.

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