Meyer dealt a fresh hand coaching Vegas

August 04, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

Ron Meyer, head coach of the Canadian Football League expansion Las Vegas Posse, has graciously offered his help in resolving the bitter dispute over the nickname Colts.

Said Meyer, who had a tumultuous five-year relationship with owner Bob Irsay in Indianapolis, "They should rename the Colts the Possums because they always get killed on the road and they play dead at home."

Meyer, whose team entertains the Baltimore CFLs on Saturday night, was having his little joke at the expense of Irsay. But it seems only fitting that he is employed by a team named the Posse, considering how folks tried to run him out of New England and Indianapolis.

Controversy has shadowed Meyer almost every step of the way. He has come full circle in returning to Las Vegas, where he was named to his first head coaching job at UNLV in 1973.

Since then, Meyer, 52, has been besieged by recruiting scandals and player rebellions, earning nicknames like "The King of Con" and the "Despot of Beantown." Former All-Pro NFL guard John Hannah of the Patriots called him "the sorriest excuse for a coach I've ever seen."

But always, Meyer has won.

"If you took a secret poll of my critics and asked them if I were sincere or a phony, I'm sure they would vote I'm a phony," he said. "But I look upon myself as an honest man.

"In today's society, people love to put labels on you that often stick for life. You're a genius or a bum. Didn't someone call Tom Landry, one of the NFL's best coaches, 'Plastic Man?' "

Meyer, who grew up in Westerville, Ohio, idolizing legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes for his "toughness and bullheadedness," has answered his critics so often that he offers his defense almost by rote.

"In college, they said I was a great recruiter but couldn't coach," ,, he said. "That's like saying Richard Nixon was great at foreign affairs but weak on domestic problems.

"They say you can't possibly be good at everything. But to win, you'd better be a combination of things: recruiter, coach, salesman, teacher. And my record speaks for itself.

"I took some of the sorriest football programs and turned them into winners. UNLV was 1-10 when I took over, and in four years [27-8] I built them into a small college power.

"SMU was thinking of dropping football when I started there in 1976. Six years later, we were 10-1.

"The Patriots were a sorry mess when I got there in 1982, losing twice to the Colts the year before. But they went 18-15 before I was fired in 1984, when we were 5-3.

"I went 36-35 with the Colts, the best record anyone's had working for a tyrant like Irsay. Vince Lombardi couldn't win consistently in that environment."

Meyer's success has always come with baggage, though.

At UNLV, he was known for pushing his players to run sprints in 120-degree heat. He started his first season with 68 players and finished with 18.

At SMU, he enjoyed great acclaim while the "Pony Express" of Eric Dickerson and Craig James ran wild. But after he left, the Mustangs were found guilty of 25 recruiting violations.

"The problems were there before I took over," Meyer said. "I just inherited them."

In New England, he alienated most of the Patriots' veterans by imposing a strict code of behavior, including banning players from leaving the hotel on road trips, making repeated bed checks, and having separate buses for the offensive and defensive platoons.

"Instead of treating us like men, we were treated like kids," recalled wide receiver Stanley Morgan.

Said Meyer: "Sure I made some mistakes and didn't communicate enough with the veterans my first year at Foxboro. I was too remote. But there's always one or two disgruntled players who manage to catch the media's ear.

"Look at Jimmy Johnson. He won two straight Super Bowls in Dallas. He cut veterans who fumbled or fell asleep in meetings. But real pros like Michael Irvin only praised him."

Meyer, who spent the last two years as an NFL analyst for CNN, has a fresh start in Las Vegas. When he applied for the vacant job at UNLV after Jim Strong was fired, his name caught the eye of Posse owner Nick Mileti, who in the 1970s ruled a sports empire in Cleveland. He was principal owner of the Cavaliers and kept the Indians from moving to New Orleans, but he lost millions on the World Hockey League Crusaders.

"I talked to about 25 coaching candidates, many with great credentials," said Mileti. "But I kept coming back to Ron. He was the only one I offered the job."

The Posse, with 29 rookies on its 37-man roster, is 2-2, and could be 3-1 but for a 22-20 loss to Sacramento in the final minute.

"We're building from the ground up, but we've been decimated by injuries to nine of our starters," said Meyer. "We lost our best running back, Kalin Hall, in the opener when he tore up his knee, and last week against Toronto our quarterback, Anthony Calvillo, hurt his ankle on our first offensive play. He won't start against Baltimore this week."

Despite the adversity, Meyer feels reborn.

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