What Ross lacks excitement-wise, he makes up detail-wise

January 27, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

MIAMI -- The story has become legendary. The one about San Diego Chargers coach Bobby Ross driving into Jack Murphy Stadium twice for games this season, and being charged for parking because the attendant did not recognize him.

In truth, the attendant should be promoted. The Chargers played eight home games, and he recognized Ross six other times.

Ross' last name might as well be Who.

"He is nondescript and has virtually no ego," said Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy. "Bobby is extremely honest, and relies a lot on intuition. I think one day that nation is going to realize they have been watching one of the finest minds in pro football."

The evidence is growing. The Chargers were 16-32 in the three years before Ross, and 32-18 since Ross arrived in 1992.

Look where the Chargers are now: one game away from winning one of the most coveted titles in professional sports. Ross, who was 39-19-1 at Maryland before coaching Georgia Tech to a share of the 1990 national championship, is a Super Bowl victory away from gaining the same sort of college/NFL distinction as Jimmy Johnson.

But don't compare the two. Johnson is flamboyant, dominating and has an ego the size of Texas.

Ross, 57, is downright boring.

"He is embarrassed by a lot of attention," said San Diego general manager Bobby Beathard. "He wants to coach and be with his players and his family. As a coach, he's not looking for the other stuff."

"I'm not going to go out and dress like Elvis," said Ross, repeating one of his favorite expressions. "I'd rather go to a movie and not be known. I'm boring, I admit it."

Ross' idea of having fun is walking around the neighborhood with his wife, Alice, or reading books about the Civil War. Maybe catch a movie, eat a couple of scoops of ice cream or attend a country and western concert.

Then there are times Ross really gets excited.

"I remember once we were in Mobile, Ala., and Coach said he knew of this great place to eat," said John Misciagna, the Chargers' quality control coach and a Ross assistant since 1982. "He was real excited. Then he pulled into a shopping mall and we walked inside to a cafeteria."

Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen said: "Bobby will come in and say he had a really great weekend. Then he'll say, 'Yeah, I watched three past films of Chargers games.' "

Ross, who gives his coaches a Christmas bonus out of his own pocket every year, couldn't stick out in a crowd of one. His wardrobe is bland -- usually baggy khaki pants, an oversized Chargers jacket and a tilted baseball cap. His vocabulary is dominated by one quirk, the use of "-wise" as in "evade-ability-wise," "upfront-wise" and "coaching-wise," spoken with that mild Southern drawl.

"He's an introvert," said Friedgen, who has coached with Ross the past 18 years. "If you really want him to talk, get him to speak about his family. He loves to tell their tales."

Ross has five children and 12 grandchildren. His father, Leonard, never owned a car and walked four miles every day to his railroad job in Richmond, Va. Ross also learned discipline at Virginia Military Institute -- where he lettered in football, basketball and baseball -- and as a first lieutenant in the Army.

Ross still loves the military routine, with its attention to detail and basics. He hates surprises and loves to prepare.

"Coach Ross is so meticulous that I've seen him run through a hole in practice, just to see what the running back sees," said Natrone Means, the Chargers' top rusher.

Ross charts how many yards a receiver gains after a catch. He reads the other teams' press guides. He is hands-on in every aspect of the Chargers including coaching, teaching, diagramming and explaining.

Bear Bryant coached from a tower. Ross coaches from inside the huddle.

"Going into battle, you want a coach, a leader, a general who hasn't left any stone unturned," said kicker John Carney. "We go through everything from A to Z. Coach probably knows how many spikes were on the bottom of Natrone's shoe on his fourth carry in the fourth game."

Ross has rebuilt and won almost everywhere he has coached. In 1982, his first season in College Park, Maryland finished 8-4 after going 4-6-1 the previous year. Ross says he probably would have stayed at the school, but that Maryland underwent too many changes -- including tougher academic standards for athletes -- after the death of basketball star Len Bias in 1986.

That's all history now, but Ross' coaching style remains mostly the same. He spends most of his time poring over game film trying to gain any advantage, however slight.

He set the tone for discipline with San Diego early when he cut four important veterans for not attending a voluntary training camp in his second year.

"He goes berserk about twice a year," said Chargers defensive tackle Reuben Davis. "Other than that, he comes at you in a philosophical-type way. He uses a lot of quotes from things he reads. His speeches are well structured. He's just pretty quiet."

Ross wouldn't have it any other way. He was recently asked why he didn't tell the parking lot attendant he was Bobby Ross, coach of the Chargers.

"I don't know," said Ross. He then broke into a smile. "They might say, 'Who's that?' I just don't like the attention."

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