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Job Doesn't Get the Best of Him : Football: Chuck Clausen, new defensive line coach for the San Diego Chargers, is kept quite busy, however, by his charges.

August 06, 1991|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — You've been to the mall and maybe you've seen a young mother toting a crying baby, pushing a stroller with a screaming toddler, and at the same time trying to keep track of a rambunctious youngster.

Or, maybe you've seen Chuck Clausen at work on the Chargers' practice field.

Clausen has been hired to babysit Leslie O'Neal, Burt Grossman, Joe Phillips and several more big lugs who are employed as defensive linemen by the Chargers.

Good luck.

Gunther Cunningham had the assignment of defensive line coach last year, but there were too many headaches, too many tantrums, too many headlines, and so he was asked not to return.

"To say the least," Coach Dan Henning said, "Chuck's different than the guy we had here last year."

Cunningham yelled. Clausen doesn't. Cunningham played favorites. Clausen's fatherly, and coaches them all the same. Cunningham has designs on being a head coach. Clausen's just happy to be here.

Well, so far.

"Let me tell you something," he said, while leaning forward to whisper. "I would not have wanted this to be my first job in pro football. I mean I'd be looking for other work."

To keep up with these guys, Clausen already understands that he will need every one of his 28 years of coaching experience.

Question: "Have you guys noticed any difference from last year to this year?"

Grossman: "What's the difference? I'm hurt (knee) and not practicing."

Phillips: "And the coach is putting up with it. Nothing changes."

O'Neal: "I got no comment."

Question: "Is this year's coach any different than last year's coach?"

Grossman: "Oh, God."

Phillips: "Chuck's a lot more liberal. Gun was really like anal retentive. Chuck's more of a free spirit."

Grossman: "Oh, yeah. I can see it now: Chuck at Woodstock. Nude in a hippie commune and picking strawberries. I can see it. They called him, 'Chas.' "

O'Neal: "I got no comment."

Question: "Come on, is it better this year?"

Grossman: "This man is like a father to me."

Phillips: "Shut up."

O'Neal: "I got no comment."

Grossman: "Oh, God."

And somebody wanted this job.

Chuck Clausen is 51 and will be going on 71 if he lets this wild bunch get to him. He's coached with Lou Holtz, Dick Vermeil and Woody Hayes, and imagine Burt Grossman and Woody Hayes passing time together.

"Chuck's been around characters before," defensive coordinator Ron Lynn said. "He's been around Dan before, so he knew what he was signing on for."

Grossman, however, walks the cliffs daily. His wisecracks earned him cover-boy treatment in Sports Illustrated earlier last year, and at season's end his remarks almost got him into a fight with Cunningham.

O'Neal challenged the reputation of linebacker Billy Ray Smith last season, and in doing so infuriated Henning, who threatened to suspend O'Neal if he didn't mind his own business. O'Neal kept on talking, and when teammate Lee Williams was a training camp no-show this year, O'Neal blasted Grossman as a poor replacement for Williams.

Phillips plays nose tackle, attends law school classes at night and has been rebuked in the past by the organization for being too outspoken.

This is no glee club.

"I've noticed in the past that your pass rushers in football have some individualistic characteristics to them," Clausen said. "They're kind of cowboys, and had they been born of another era, they might have been gunslingers.

"I've heard about these guys, but I'd much rather have the job I got than sitting in a room with a bunch of very very average players, who don't cause any problems, and who have no chance to be great. Now that would really be a bad job."

Clausen worked for Henning in Atlanta in 1986 after a successful 10-year stint in Philadelphia, which included a trip to the Super Bowl. He finished coaching in Atlanta in 1989, and a year ago at this time he was working as a commercial real estate salesman and minding a small computer store and a doughnut shop.

Now instead of tax forms, profit margins and rush-hour traffic he has Grossman, Phillips and O'Neal.

"Chuck's got to be very watchful," Henning said, "that they don't take advantage of him."

Clausen leaned forward again. "I agree with that. I can see that. Those guys are working on my head all the time, but they are working on a veteran head."

Question: "How's he doing?"

Phillips: "We can already see that he's given O'Neal a long leash."

Grossman: "A real long leash, like from here to the ocean."

Question? "Is Clausen better than Cunningham?"

Phillips: "I enjoyed Gun's technique. He and I related. We were both sick."

Grossman: "No, you were sick. Gun just pretended to be sick."

"Shoot, I have no desire to be defensive line coach of the year," Clausen said. "I'd much rather take my playoff check, sit in Hawaii and have people say, 'Boy, he just got himself a great bunch of athletes and he didn't mess it up.' That's basically where I am."

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