Grading players is key for Marchibroda

ON THE NFL

February 18, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

John Madden, the former Oakland Raiders coach turned sportscaster, remembers Ken Stabler's cool demeanor during his team's 37-31 overtime victory against the Baltimore Colts in the 1977 playoff game at Memorial Stadium.

Stabler sauntered over to the sideline during a timeout late in the game to talk to Madden, who was wearing a short-sleeve shirt on a balmy Christmas Eve and was flapping his arms the way he does now on television.

Stabler, though, wasn't caught up in the drama. He could appreciate it.

Grabbing a water bottle, he looked around at the crowd at Memorial Stadium and told Madden, "This is a heck of a game."

It certainly was.

Pro football doesn't get much better than it did that day.

Nobody could have dreamed that day that it would be the last playoff game played in Baltimore or that Ted Marchibroda wouldn't coach another playoff game as a head coach until this year with the Indianapolis Colts.

If Marchibroda, 64, can recapture those days with Baltimore's new NFL team in what is likely to be his last hurrah as a coach, it will be a storybook ending to his career.

But the task is likely to be more difficult this time around. That team Marchibroda coached was largely put together by the late Joe Thomas, who isn't remembered fondly in Baltimore because he brusquely dismantled a team of veterans such as Johnny Unitas.

Thomas, though, has to be given his due for quickly rebuilding the team and trading to draft quarterback Bert Jones.

This time, Marchibroda will have a major role in personnel because Baltimore NFL owner Art Modell doesn't believe in having a general manager. It's also a much more complex job in the salary cap era.

Marchibroda was in charge of personnel from 1977 to 1979 after he won a power struggle with Thomas, but his drafts weren't distinguished.

His top six picks those three years were Randy Burke, Mike Ozdowski, Reese McCall, Mike Woods, Barry Krauss and Kim Anderson. He also joined the long list of people who were hoodwinked by Raiders owner Al Davis when he traded Raymond Chester for Mike Siani, who arrived on crutches with a foot problem.

Marchibroda is much more experienced now, so he may do better in personnel this time.

Marchibroda showed in Indianapolis last season that he can coach today's athletes, but his success in picking players is likely to determine if he can re-create those exciting days in the 1970s.

Draft update

After checking out the players at the scouting combine, the scouts' consensus seems to be that wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson of Southern Cal, offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden of UCLA and linebacker Kevin Hardy of Illinois will be the top three picks, although it's uncertain whether they'll go in that order.

Ogden solidified his place in the top three with an excellent workout. Johnson and Hardy remain highly rated, even though they weren't eye-popping at the combine. If they look good in individual workouts on their campuses in March, they should stay in the top three.

That leaves Baltimore, with the fourth pick, to check out the rest of the field. If Marchibroda wants a running back, Leeland McElroy of Texas A&M is the likely choice. If he goes for defense, lineman Simeon Rice of Illinois could be at the top of the list, although two juniors, Duane Clemons of Oklahoma and Regan Upshaw of California, are moving up fast and could be worth a look.

If the scouts were simply judging athletic talent, running back Lawrence Phillips could be in the top five. But his legal problems at Nebraska -- he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend -- are likely to drop his stock. A top-five pick is virtually assured of a signing bonus of $5 million or more.

Giving that much money to a player with a character problem is too risky in the salary cap era. It also wouldn't be good for the image of a Baltimore team starting over.

The most interesting player in the draft could be Phillips' teammate, Tommie Frazier. The scouts are wondering if he could be another Kordell Stewart.

Jerry's rules

There seem to be two salary caps in the NFL these days. First, there's the one that 29 teams follow. The players association and the owners are arguing about whether the cap should be $38.7 million or $40.8 million. So far, pending further hearings, Judge David Doty is siding with the players' higher figure.

Then there's Jerry Jones' salary cap. The Dallas Cowboys owner was at it again last week when he signed safety Darren Woodson to a six-year, $18 million deal with a $5.4 million signing bonus.

By spreading it out for six years and by redoing some other contracts, Jones hopes to squeeze it under the cap.

Meanwhile, the most intriguing name on the free-agent list may be Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell.

As expected, the Steelers, who don't believe in throwing money around the way Jones does, are only offering him about $3.3 million a year. If he gets a $4 million offer, he may leave.

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