Signs indicate that Petitbon will be back next year

January 01, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Redskins lost their last game of the season yesterday, but they may have saved coach && Richie Petitbon's job.

After the Redskins finished with their worst record in 30 years (4-12), Petitbon gave one of those short answers that is typical of his taciturn style when he was asked if he expects to be back next year.

"I have no idea," Petitbon said.

Although Petitbon has been the target of much criticism -- there has been speculation he could be replaced -- the odds are that Petitbon will be back for a second season.

The man who'll make the decision, owner Jack Kent Cooke, seems to be in Petitbon's corner.

Cooke has a reputation for being a man with little patience. When he was the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, he once fired coach Butch Van Breda Kolff after he lost the seventh game of the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics.

In 1980, he fired Jack Pardee after a 6-10 season -- until this year, that had been the Redskins' worst record under Cooke, who became majority owner in 1974.

But Cooke seems to be willing to give Petitbon the benefit of the doubt. In a CBS-TV interview before yesterday's game, he noted that he hired Petitbon as an assistant in 1978.

"I have a world of respect for Richie Petitbon," he said.

Since the Redskins lost a close game, after a week of distractions, to a team that had a playoff berth on the line, the Vikings game wasn't likely to change Cooke's mind.

Another sign that Cooke doesn't plan to make a change is that general manager Charley Casserly said after the game that he's still making the scouting trip this weekend that he had planned earlier in the week.

Casserly sits right behind Cooke in the owner's box and is often berated by Cooke when things go wrong. If Cooke wanted to meet with Casserly over the weekend to make an immediate change, Casserly wouldn't be making the trip.

It also would cost Cooke about $1.5 million to pay off Petitbon and his staff for the final year of their contracts.

It's now likely Cooke will wait until Monday to meet with Petitbon, who is going to have a season-ending meeting with the players that day.

Cooke will want an explanation of what went wrong this year, and Petitbon can make a case that injuries wrecked this season.

The injuries continued to pile up yesterday when two more offensive linemen, Jeff Bostic and Ed Simmons, went down with bad knees.

Even quarterback Mark Rypien, who has said he thinks he may be shipped out, lauded the coaches for the way they had to cope with injuries.

"I think they deserve another shot," Rypien said. "It's been very difficult circumstances for all of them when you look at what we've been through. It's really unfair, the circumstances they've been under and the hand that they've been dealt. It's been very difficult really for them.

"I think that's one thing that needs to be noticed. They've been dealt a pretty lousy hand at times and had to scrape to get 11 healthy guys on the football field. There's no doubt in my mind that, given another opportunity, this coaching staff will turn things around."

Assuming he's back, Petitbon probably will have to turn it around next year to survive. His contract is up after the 1994 season and Cooke isn't likely to tolerate a second losing season.

During the CBS interview, Cooke promised things will be different next year.

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