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SPORTS EXTRA / FOOTBALL '99 : SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA'S NFL IMPACT : A Land of Plenty : Southern California Produces Quality and Quantity When It Comes to Stocking the NFL With Players and Coaches

September 02, 1999|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most sportswriters take it as an insult being called a "homer," but here it's worn as a badge of honor.

Though we are sometimes criticized by letter or fax for being too free with the kudos for our hard-working athletes, the discerning reader knows if there is a professional shot to be taken, it won't be aimed at anyone with any sort of L.A. pedigree.

Had Ryan Leaf been born in L.A., attended high school nearby, been accepted by either UCLA or USC, first of all he wouldn't have done any of the things people say he has done.

And even if he had, there is no reason the rest of the world would have had to read about it.

But Leaf's from Montana, the clod, and went to school in Washington, the punk, so it's rip city.

The only exception to the homer editorial policy is when someone from UCLA acquires a handicapped-parking placard because they are too short to play quarterback in the NFL. Every once in a while one of our USC editors insists upon going after the other guys.

As a general rule, though, the barbs are reserved for those who didn't qualify to attend USC or UCLA, thereby forcing them to enter one of the Arizona schools.

Only the good ones come from L.A. The thing is, you look around the NFL, and although there is no professional football team here, it's dominated by L.A.

Rosters must still be reduced before the season begins, but there are more than 70 of our favorite sons representing UCLA and USC presently in the NFL. Another 60-plus of the NFL's finest citizens claim a hometown in the greater Los Angeles area, including the 49ers' Lawrence Phillips, who promises never again to be a convict.

You look at the NFL roster of L.A.-connected football players and there are some future Hall of Famers on there: Junior Seau, Keyshawn Johnson, J.J. Stokes. Homers are allowed to stretch the truth.

One-third of the NFL's head coaches, the best third, spent some kind of time in L.A. being groomed for success. Now you know why Bruce Coslet is such a loser as a head coach.

Philadelphia's Andy Reid was born in L.A.

Tennessee's Jeff Fisher was born in Culver City, played at USC and worked as defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams.

Indianapolis' Jim Mora, born in Glendale, roomed with Jack Kemp at Occidental, stayed on to coach, worked for a year at UCLA and earned his master's degree in education from USC. Imagine what it must be like now to live in Indianapolis.

Mike Holmgren (Seattle), Jim Fassel (New York Giants), Steve Mariucci (San Francisco), Brian Billick (Baltimore), and Dick Vermeil (St. Louis) all spent quality time here before becoming NFL head coaches. The NFL's official media guide says Norv Turner (Washington) also spent time here, but it must be a mistake.

Mike Riley also served an apprenticeship in L.A. as USC's offensive coordinator before taking his turn in hell as the new head coach of the Chargers.

You think Charger General Manager Bobby Beathard hired him because of his 8-14 record as head coach of Oregon State the past two years? His 11-9 mark in command of San Antonio in the World League? Or his 40-32 record for Winnipeg in the Canadian Football League?

Of course not, he hired Mike Riley because he took the advice of L.A.'s very own John Robinson, who said, "If you go to heaven and you look around and Mike Riley isn't there, you'll know you're not in heaven."

The quote makes no sense because if you go to heaven--you're in heaven and it doesn't matter if Riley is there or not--but the point is Mike Riley's a swell guy.

As a rule that makes it easier for a homer to do his job, but not when Pollyanna is treating a football team as if it's some kind of Good Ship Lollypop. This guy is straight out of Pleasantville, raised by Ozzie and Harriet and friendlier than Steve Garvey.

Riley sat across from Miami's Jimmy Johnson recently, and said later, "that was pretty neat."

Nifty keno, man, this is the National Football League. Bill Cowher, Mike Ditka, Bill Parcells. They'd not only cuss out Mister Rogers, but rip up that ugly sweater.

Wait until they figure out they're going to be coaching against him.

"I don't buy that business about players having to fear the head coach," Riley says. "It works for some people, but I would have a hard time being like that. It doesn't fit with how I try to deal with people."

OK, boys and girls, it's time to remind Mister Rogers that last year's Super Bowl teams were directed by Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan, coaches known for the intense, ruthless and domineering way they direct a football team.

"I don't know if you win because of your personality," Riley says. "You win games because your team produces."

Tell that to Jimmy Johnson, Mike Holmgren and Tom Coughlin. Does Forrest Gump have a chance?

"In Winnipeg, when we lost it was because I was too nice, too soft," he says. "And when we won, it was because I was a players' coach. What you have to do is win. . . . It's like my wife says, 'You're just as good as your last game.' "

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