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Reeves Rides to New York on His High Horse : Football: Some welcome his approach to Giants. Others say he is bucking for a fall.

September 18, 1993|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On his way out the door, linebacker Pepper Johnson called his former team the "Jersey Broncos." Intended as a parting shot at new Giant Coach Dan Reeves, Johnson was simply exposing his naivete.

What did he expect? A rerun of the Ray Handley regime?

Reeves is a man who leaves his stamp on a team and sometimes people are crushed in the embossing process. Johnson was more a victim of his mouth--this was not his first disparaging remark--and his $1.2-million contract than his abilities.

"I certainly didn't look at any of the decisions I had to make in terms of making a statement or putting my stamp on anything," Reeves said. "I just made what I thought were the best long-run decisions for our team.

"As a head coach, you always have to make tough decisions. . . . that chemistry you're looking for is always a dangerous situation."

Translation: If you can't fall in line with the formula, get out of Dr. Reeves' laboratory.

You don't step on Superman's cape and you don't mess with Dan Reeves . . . unless, of course, you're John Elway. Elway suggested to reporters that Reeves should delegate authority, that he had taken on too much for one man. Reeves told Elway to "grow up."

The feud with Elway wasn't the only reason Reeves' 12-year association with Denver ended last year. Owner Pat Bowlen tried to overrule Reeves' decision to fire offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan, only to have his vice president/head coach point to a clause in his contract that allowed him to hire and fire all coaches.

How could Bowlen allow that contract to remain in force?

Reeves had taken the Broncos to the playoffs six times and the Super Bowl three times, but a man who owns a professional football team doesn't like to be told what to do by an employee.

"When you've done something for 12 years and you've kind of put your heart and soul into it," Reeves said, "and all of sudden, the owner decides he wants to make a change even though you felt that you have had a great relationship and worked well together and had a lot of good times, it's a big disappointment. I certainly thought the relationship would continue, but I also respect that Pat Bowlen owned the club and he had the right to do whatever he wanted to do.

"It was a great experience that just ended in disappointment. But I wasn't going to sit there and make it hard for him. I've been across the table many times when I called a player in and told him I was going to make a change."

Pepper Johnson wasn't the first. And he clearly won't be the last.

Reeves has a new deal in New York, though. He's the football coach and George Young, a three-time NFL Executive of the Year who's in his 15th season as vice president/general manager, makes the final call.

How long before the control-freak from Denver who ran football operations, the college draft and coached the team clashes with his new boss?

The New York tabloid headline writers are holding their breath.

"He coaches, I manage, the scouts scout and I take care of the overlap," Young says. "That's the way we've been doing it here for a long time. In Denver, the evolution was a lot different. When Dan went to Denver, he had a new owner who didn't know too much about football. Dan filled the vacuum. Here, we have an established way of doing things.

"We haven't had any disagreements on anything major, or really anything minor. He doesn't interfere with my job. During the holdouts and negotiations, he never said a word to me. But the decisions are made with cooperation of everyone here. We run things as a team, not with one individual as crown Caesar. I don't want to be Caesar."

There are those who believe Reeves would gladly jump at the job. But he is also quick to point out the differences between Denver and New York.

"When I went to Denver in 1981, I didn't know anybody and I felt like if I was going to go anywhere, have any control over my own destiny, I had to have the ability to make decisions. I tried to surround myself with people I could rely on and, although I had the final say, I'd say we ruled by majority.

"But there are a lot of ways to do it and George Young has a great reputation. He's very bright, very thorough. I have no problem working with someone like that, who has been that successful and I'll just handle the football part. It takes a lot of pressure off of me."

Has Reeves mellowed? He says yes, but the competitive fires that used to consume him may flare up at any minute. This is a man who Tom Landry calls "the most competitive man I know." And when Reeves sets up an off-season golf vacation with a group of coaches, you can bet he's just spent a week at a golf camp. (It's a trick he learned from Landry).

There are those who see no problem with Reeves imposing his will on the Giants. After all, he has as many championship rings as places to wear them--two as a Cowboy halfback, three as a Cowboy assistant and three as the Broncos' head coach.

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