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His Best Advice Has Often Been Ignored

November 06, 1994|JIM MURRAY

One of my biggest problems on this job, it grieves me to admit, is I'm always trying to help people. Usually, people who don't want help.

For instance, baseball managers. I don't know how many baseball managers whose job I have tried to make easier with sound advice on when to change pitchers, whom to send up to pinch-hit, and so on. Look! Somebody's got to do it, right? After all, who told Jack Nicklaus he had his right hand too far over on the shaft. And who asked Carl Lewis if it wouldn't do him some good to take off on the left foot?

Football's the same. I mean, everyone's got to set his sights on some form of public service, and mine includes helping out football coaches, giving them the benefit of my vast experience in the matter.

I wouldn't exactly describe their reaction as gratitude. Annoyance would be more like it, not to mention downright hostility.

Still and all, one has to rise above this. The public weal is more important.

Accordingly, I would like to reprise a few of the suggestions I have made to football mentors over the years to make their jobs easier.

Here are a few of the Murray Postulates to Better Football:

1. Never punt on fourth down inside the other guys' 50-yard line.

I never make much headway with the coaching brain trust on this one. It is written in stone someplace that you always punt on fourth down--unless you are close enough to go for a field goal. In other words, on fourth down, kick!

Well, perhaps you noticed last Sunday what happened when the Houston Oilers had fourth down and six inches to go on the Raider 49-yard line when they punted the ball. It went into the end zone. The Raiders then took the ball and drove 80 yards to a touchdown in 16 plays and chewed up 8 minutes 51 seconds off the clock.

Now, the Murray Postulate is, you can always get six inches. All the quarterback has to do is fall forward. Since Houston lost this game by three points, this was a crushing decision. Among other things, a coach's decision that his team cannot be trusted to make six inches is devastating to morale. But never mind the six inches. I never punt the ball inside the other team's territory, even if there's six yards.

In the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, trailing by three, with 13 minutes left, Houston had the ball on the Raider 44-yard line, fourth and one. Again, the Oilers punted. The ball went out of bounds (see below) on the nine. When Houston next got the ball, they were on their own 14. They had lost 42 yards. Also the game.

2. Punting the ball out of bounds inside the other team's five-yard line is the most overrated play in football.

How many times have you seen a team take this ostensibly poor field position and drive 98 yards for a touchdown? And, do you ever remember a pro team staying down in this claustrophobic position?

They used to call this the "coffin corner" kick back in the old collegiate days. But the facts of the matter are, with the pros, it's often the other guys whose throats begin to rattle. The problem is, the defense has, what, 95 yards to cover? They have to spread out all over the field. Give John Elway or Joe Montana a defense thinned out all over the place and he doesn't stay in the "coffin corner" long. Montana has made a living throwing touchdowns from these places, even in Super Bowls.

"Good field position" for the pros can often mean their own three. "Bad field position" can often be the other guys' 15. It's harder to move the ball against a bunched-up defense.

3. Never, never plunge into the line on first and goal inside the other team's five-yard line.

Talk about bad field position! You are standing there looking at about two tons of football beef on the hoof, bunched together and about as impenetrable as the Bermuda Triangle. Yet, 10 out of 10 pro coaches will call a line plunge on first down in this situation. A tank couldn't get through.

They will try it again. Then, on third down, they will try something less Neanderthal but just as predictable and too late--a pass, an end run.

It is Murray's Immutable Third Law that, if they tried that end run on first down, the ballcarrier could go in untouched by human hands.

Even the great Bill Walsh fell victim to this kind of coach-think in a Super Bowl against Cincinnati. He ended up even missing the fourth-down field goal.

Try to remember, the German Army didn't try to go through the Maginot Line. It went around it.

4. In an obvious passing situation, particularly near the goal line, the quarterback doesn't have to pass. he can probably walk into the end zone.

Happens every Sunday. With everyone guessing pass, nobody bothers with a pass rush. Everybody peels back to knock down the throw. The quarterback is as alone as a guy waiting for a bus. He could help himself to 10, 15 yards with a cane.

Trouble is, he's such a slave to custom, he will still stand there, helplessly looking for someone to get open. The truth is, he's open!

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