Igwebuike gets boot from CFLs

September 14, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Don Matthews' bottom-line policy claimed another casualty yesterday when the Baltimore CFLs coach fired place-kicker Donald Igwebuike.

The decision to cut Igwebuike, a crowd favorite at Memorial Stadium, came three days after his failed 21-yard field-goal attempt allowed Sacramento to escape with a 30-29 win.

It also served as the strongest statement yet that playing for Matthews comes down to one common denominator: produce or else.

Matthews clearly was not satisfied with Igwebuike's performance -- in kickoffs or field goals -- of late, a circumstance that puts former West Virginia kicker Charlie Baumann on the CFLs' firing line this week.

"I felt over the last three weeks that Donald's kicking had gone in the wrong direction," Matthews said. "He wasn't as good a kicker as he was the week we started. I felt we had to make a change."

Matthews said he told Igwebuike three weeks ago to improve his kickoffs. When that improvement was not forthcoming in Matthews' eyes, Saturday night's flop -- Igwebuike actually slipped on the 21-yard attempt in the final minute -- proved to be the last straw. Matthews insisted the firing was performance-related only.

"Three weeks ago I spoke to him about his deficiencies," he said. "Earlier in the year, he was putting the ball in the air [on kickoffs] in excess of four seconds. The last three weeks, none of them were four seconds. I explained his deficiencies to him. He didn't improve.

"If you know your deficiencies and didn't correct them, you didn't do the work that was necessary."

The CFLs want 60-yard kickoffs with 4.0 hang time, but Igwebuike's kickoff average had slipped to 57.3, fourth in the league.

"If the head coach tells me to do something, I'd do it more than a couple of times," said special teams coach Daryl Edralin. "I can't recall [Igwebuike] spending a lot of time on it. Whatever he was doing didn't show. He was regressing. We keep charts and the charts show a steady decline from the first game."

Symptomatic of the problem was Igwebuike's 51-yard kickoff in the fourth quarter Saturday after Baltimore had taken a 21-20 lead. Sacramento returned the kick 27 yards and started a touchdown drive at its own 51-yard line.

It was on that note that Igwebuike's star-crossed football career hit the skids again. In 1990, when he was the Minnesota Vikings' kicker, he was charged with being an accomplice to smuggling heroin. He was acquitted in a Tampa, Fla., federal court in April 1991, but the six-year NFL veteran could not get another job in the league.

But he left the CFLs yesterday the same way he arrived last March, saying he was not bitter over his setback.

"It's not my place to make judgments," Igwebuike said. "He [Matthews] knows what's best for the team and the organization. I respect any decision he makes. I want to thank God, Coach Matthews and Mr. [Jim] Speros for the opportunity. And most importantly, the fans. It was

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short, but I enjoyed every minute."

Igwebuike, 33 and a native of Nigeria, said he would consider retiring. But yesterday his agent, Eric Eisenberg of Cleveland, was calling around the NFL to inquire about jobs. One of those calls went to the Washington Redskins, who were not interested.

The release of Igwebuike does not figure to be popular at Memorial Stadium, where he had come to be known as "Iggy" to the fans. In 10 games, he hit 27 of 36 field-goal attempts and scored 116 points, tying Edmonton's Sean Fleming for second best in the CFL. Igwebuike missed three attempts the past two games, and two of them (32- and 21-yarders) were the shortest misses of his seven-year pro career.

Baumann, 27, who made 20 of 29 field-goal attempts splitting two NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, signed a two-year contract yesterday morning.

"I've been booed before," he said. "If the fans want to boo, the ball's going to be going through the uprights."

When the CFLs considered their kicking alternatives Sunday, Baumann had the inside track. He played for Matthews in 1991 with the Orlando Thunder in the World League, and was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers last month when Gary Anderson ended his holdout.

"I'm not sure Charlie is better than Donald," Matthews said. "But Charlie's football is going up, and Donald's is going down."

Edralin said Baumann would be held to the same standards that were applied to Igwebuike.

"We've got another guy in camp now and he's got to perform," Edralin said. "He'll have the same criteria. He has to produce like anybody else. That's the nature of the game."

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