Bashing your coach often risky business

ON THE NFL

Nfl Week 13

November 30, 2003|By KEN MURRAY

What we have here, as Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke once was compelled to say, is a failure to communicate.

That was the charge leveled by kick returner Brian Mitchell of the New York Giants and defensive tackle Daryl Gardener of the Denver Broncos in the past 10 days against their respective coaches.

It would be instructive for both players to remember that Newman's movie character was shot just as he spoke that famous line years ago. The NFL equivalent is to be fired, of course, and that is likely to happen in each case sooner or later.

Getting the facts right is important if you're going after the coach. Neither Mitchell nor Gardener seems to have gripped that reality, however.

Mitchell complained about faulty communication after he was replaced on the punt return team by Delvin Joyce in the fourth quarter of a Monday night loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He criticized coach Jim Fassel - a fairly easy target, given the Giants' 4-7 record - for not speaking directly to him about the benching.

A day later, Fassel brought Mitchell into his office to clear up the matter. In fact, Fassel had told special teams coach Bruce Read to inform Mitchell of his plan to split the returns. Mitchell, after all, is averaging a league-worst 4.1 yards per punt return and 20.5 on kickoff returns (18th in the NFC). The Giants expected considerably more when they signed him in the offseason.

Fassel also said he did not hold Mitchell, 35, solely accountable. "If I would have pinned it all on him, I would have replaced him," Fassel said.

By Wednesday, Mitchell had no more to say on the matter.

In Denver, Gardener was suspended last week by coach Mike Shanahan for conduct detrimental to the team. Shortly after, he lashed out at Shanahan on a radio show, saying, among other things, that the coach hadn't communicated with him about what he'd done wrong.

That earned him a two-game suspension. It is extremely unlikely Gardener will play for the Broncos again, though. For his part, Shanahan insisted he had explained his dissatisfaction to Gardener in a face-to-face meeting.

Shanahan's real mistake was giving Gardener, a notorious loafer, a $5 million signing bonus this year. Gardener becomes the latest in a shocking line of free-agent busts signed by Shanahan, among them former Ravens defensive tackle Lional Dalton. Interestingly, Dalton found it necessary to weigh in on Gardener's suspension last week, too.

"It's hard to play for that guy [Shanahan]," Dalton told the same radio station that interviewed Gardener. "He has that Napoleon thing going on. It just makes it difficult for you to like the game. Everything is everybody else's fault but his."

Indeed, Shanahan has autonomy in Denver. Dalton and Gardener found that out only after they demonstrated they couldn't - or wouldn't - play. And even if Fassel goes down in New York, Mitchell will find out that accountability doesn't leave with a coach.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Playing the role

In the TV commercial for Under Armour, one player passionately attempts to rally others with a cry of "We must protect this house." That player is former Maryland Terrapin Eric Ogbogu, now a defensive end with the Dallas Cowboys.

Under Armour is a synthetic undershirt design company. Ogbogu, who has had a relatively undistinguished NFL career, got the part because he played at Maryland with Kevin Plank, an Under Armour co-founder. Plank remembered Ogbogu as a fiery player and thus perfect for the role.

Originally drafted by Bill Parcells and the New York Jets in 1998, Ogbogu signed with Parcells' Cowboys in August. After getting one sack in four seasons, he has 2 1/2 sacks this year with three forced fumbles and two quarterback pressures that led to interceptions.

"It's something I did and I am proud of the fact that I did it," Ogbogu said of the commercial. "But it's satisfying to be finally playing well. A lot of people recognize me for the commercial. Maybe they will now recognize me for football."

Together again?

Quarterback Mark Brunell and coach Tom Coughlin weren't on the best of terms when Coughlin was fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars last December. But after playing for Jack Del Rio and getting benched this season, Brunell says he wouldn't mind playing under Coughlin again.

"Maybe he'd want an old quarterback," Brunell said. "I would play for Tom Coughlin again, absolutely. We had breakfast about a month ago and caught up. ... Those [stories of disaffection] were always blown out of proportion."

Brunell, still recovering from an elbow injury, almost certainly will be cut by the Jaguars after this season and Coughlin is expected to land one of the coaching jobs that opens up.

Saving Schottenheimer

Finances could save San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, even though he has lost 16 of his past 20 games. The Chargers are obligated to pay almost $4 million of the $5 million Schottenheimer is due the next two years (the Washington Redskins owe the rest).

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