Looking to future, coaches view past



It's reunion weekend in the NFL.

Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora goes back to the town where he capped a marvelous, 10-year run with a classic flameout in New Orleans.

Carolina Panthers coach George Seifert, who guided San Francisco to a pair of Super Bowl titles, faces the 49ers in Charlotte amid reports he'll quit at season's end.

Jerry Angelo, Chicago's first-year general manager, will try to deliver a knockout punch to the team he helped build when the upstart Bears visit Tampa Bay.

Vince Tobin, who took the Arizona Cardinals to the playoffs three years ago, goes back to Tempe as defensive coordinator of the winless Detroit Lions.

Here's a look at renewing old ties:

Mora takes an injury-depleted team down to the Big Easy for a matchup of fading, 4-4 playoff contenders. He had a 93-74 record in 10 1/2 seasons coaching the Saints before the frustration of a 2-6 start in 1996 boiled over and he walked out. In hindsight, Mora figures he hung around too long.

"You can stay too long somewhere in this business," he said. "It's probably getting even more that way. I stayed too long there, probably. But I liked it. We had some good teams. It was unfortunate we played in the same division as the best team [the 49ers] in the league for a long time. Twice, we won 12 games and we were a wild-card team."

The Colts have lost their best linebacker [Mike Peterson], their best offensive guard [Steve McKinney] and their best running back [Edgerrin James] to injuries, and quarterback Peyton Manning will play with a broken jaw. On top of that, the Colts' last eight opponents have a combined record of 44-23 (.657), and they have road trips to Baltimore, Miami and St. Louis remaining.

Seifert's head coaching tenure in San Francisco spanned eight seasons, overlapping Mora's time in New Orleans. Seifert posted a regular-season record of 108-35, which gave him the best winning percentage (.755) of any coach in NFL history. His 16-25 mark with the reeling Panthers, however, has dropped him to fifth place at 124-60 (.674).

The Panthers are 1-8 this season, with a franchise-high eight-game losing streak. He spent the past week denying reports he will quit at the end of the year, but didn't exactly slam the door shut on the rumors. Look for him to go.

Before joining the Bears this season, Angelo spent 14 years with the Bucs, most recently as director of player personnel. He survived one ownership change, three head coaching changes and nine double-digit losing seasons there.

Although he refused interview requests last week because he wanted the focus to be on the game, Angelo made this comment when hired in Chicago about his time in Tampa: "I'm a specialist in losing. Do I have skeletons in my closet? I have a bone convention."

The Bucs are 4-4 and scrambling to get back in the playoff picture. The Bears are 6-2. The last time they were 6-2 (1995), they lost five of their next six games and missed the playoffs.

Tobin was Arizona's coach in 1998, when the Cardinals notched their first playoff win in 51 years. He was fired seven games into last season, then landed with the Lions.

He must be numb to the losing. Going back to the last four games of the 1999 season in Arizona, Tobin's teams have lost 17 of their past 19 games.

Manning's high-protein diet

With a hairline jaw fracture, Manning's teeth have been stabilized with a splint, which will stay in place for at least a month. He can't eat solid foods for now, and his diet consists of pasta, mashed potatoes and high-protein milkshakes. He was fortunate the helmet-to-helmet hit from Miami's Lorenzo Bromell didn't cause more damage.

"I've had a permanent retainer in my mouth ever since I got my braces taken off when I was a kid," Manning said. "[Oral surgeons] really think that's what saved my teeth. If that wouldn't have been there, my teeth probably could have been shattered pretty good."

Johnson's countdown

Even though he survived a bitter competition with Doug Flutie, quarterback Rob Johnson might not survive Buffalo's wretched, 1-7 season. His track record with injuries and his contract might sack him.

Johnson is expected to miss as much as five weeks with a separated shoulder, and has been knocked out of 11 of 27 career starts for the Bills. What's more, his contract expires after the 2002 season, and his salary-cap figure for next year is a prohibitive $11.2 million. The Bills will either extend that deal or release him.

Moving to chill time

At the request of CBS-TV, the Green Bay Packers agreed to move the starting time for their Dec. 23 game against Cleveland from noon Central time to 3:15, thereby threatening the Lambeau Field faithful with arctic weather conditions. As part of that switch, CBS moved the less-desirable Jacksonville-Minnesota game to the early slot.

In the past 25 seasons, 35 of the Packers' 36 home games in December had an 11:30 a.m. or noon kickoff, and the other game started at 1 p.m. All six of the team's home playoff games during that time were early starts, as well.

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