PONTIAC, Mich. — Somebody suggested that when Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford gave Coach Darryl Rogers a reprieve last week and rehired him, he should have handed him a shovel, too.
The Lions, 2-10, are in the NFL's deepest hole and Rogers, who built his reputation by winning under difficult situations, has faced nothing but frustration in his efforts to turn Detroit around.
The Lions have been a losing franchise for nearly 20 years and haven't won a championship since 1957.
When Rogers took over in 1985, the Lions finished 7-9. That slipped to 5-11 last year and, now, 2-10 with three games remaining in this strike-riddled season.
"You don't have to be a Phi Beta Kappa to know we're going in the wrong direction," Rogers said. "To be honest, a .500 season next year would be a hell of an accomplishment."
If he fails, however, it won't be for lack of effort. Rogers, like most football coaches, is a workaholic. He's in the office every day at 7 a.m., shaving with an electric razor while driving to work. Anything to save time.
He tumbles back into the house between 10 p.m. and midnight, exhausted, but unable to get football off his mind.
"You're not just physically tired but emotionally tired," Rogers said. "You get drained by what's going on. You have highs and lows.
"It isn't like running. It'll drain on you from the inside. Stress is a big factor."
Rogers, 52, and his wife, Marsha, have three daughters, but the girls are gone from home so it's generally quiet when he gets in.
"We never talk football at home," Rogers said. "I don't bring it home and she doesn't want to know. We have an agreement.
"I don't think there's any question that wives feel bad for you. The problem is: you see them so seldom ... When I walk in and see my wife, I'm not a football coach any more."
Somehow, the formula always worked for them during 20 years of college coaching that took them to Hayward State, Fresno State, San Jose State, Michigan State and Arizona State. But his third season in the NFL has put a definite strain on their system.
"I know I still am (a coach) and it's not like I'm not going to think about it," Rogers said. "Because, when I get in the house, there's no question that I drift off into exactly like not being there.
"But every football coach in America is the same way. He may be there in body, but he may not be there in mind. Every football coach's wife has gone through that. Every football coach's wife has wanted to discuss something and know 'now is not the time."'
Last week was a fairly good example of how life has been for Rogers lately. After a disappointing 27-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thanksgiving Day, the players had a few days off, even though the coaches continued working every day and night.
Sunday, since there was no game, the coach and his wife went to church together for the first time all season.
When the players reported in on Monday, he learned that wide receiver Jeff Chadwick had a broken wrist and was out for the season. Tuesday, his No. 1 draft pick, defensive end Reggie Rogers, reported back from a rehab center where he underwent emotional treatment, but he still wasn't ready to play. Wednesday the owner called and said Rogers would be the Lions coach again in 1988.
"As strange as it sounds with the record we have this year, I think we're coming together," Ford said. "Any further disruptions would set us back again. I think he can pull it together."
Yeah, well, tell that to the folks who watched the Lions get creamed 37-16 by the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
"It wears on you," Rogers said. "What wears on you most is the consistent daily repeat of the question that you have no control over: 'Why?' When you're losing, it just grates out farther and farther. Nobody wants to lose. Nobody in this game, whether he's a coach or a player, wants to lose.
"And then, when you are losing, you're just grated more and more and more on having to answer."
Rogers was 129-84-7 as a college coach. His critics say he hasn't picked up the finer points of the NFL game. His critics also say Rogers is too soft-spoken.
"I think Bill Walsh of the 49ers has shown you can be soft-spoken and still be successful," Rogers said.
The players like Rogers. A loud cheer went up from the middle of the practice field when Ford told them their coach would be staying.
"I enjoy playing for Darryl because he'll talk to you," said backup quarterback Eric Hipple, who has seen several coaches come and go. "He treats people fairly. He'll tell you what he thinks. I respect him for that.
"It's a difficult jump to this level from college. Players have different reasons for playing here than they do in college. It took him a while to find out what motivates players here. But he grew as he did that."
Rogers knows that his reprieve could be short-lived, that an 0-4 start would find him unemployed early in the 1988 season. But he has no regrets.
"What frustrates me is losing," Rogers said. "I think that if I was out right now, and not being successful, I would think ... I like pro football. I didn't know if I would.
"Even with a losing season, which is miserable, it truely is miserable, even the stressful situations ... it's well worth it. I would say that it's been fun. I've enjoyed it. I didn't like the results, but I'd do it again."