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The Inside Track | COMMENTARY

With NFL Job Openings, There Is No Hire Love

January 27, 2002|THOMAS BOSWELL | THE WASHINGTON POST

If you like to watch the titanic collision of huge NFL egos, this is the month for you. If you enjoy seeing men reveal their true character in the crucible of career-defining struggle, these may be your favorite days. If you love self-congratulatory leaps into the crowd and abject humiliation, then you're in heaven now.

Who has mentioned anything about the NFL playoffs? We're talking about the front-office hiring-and-firing sweepstakes that intoxicates football this time of year. Every January, when owners, general managers and coaches get to beat their chests, upstage the sport, sign for the big bucks or make fools of themselves.

The late Edward Bennett Williams, who owned the Redskins and later the Orioles, once said, ''The only thing dumber than a football owner is a smart baseball owner. I know. I've been both.''

So, when you hear an NFL owner is deeply involved in deciding his coach or general manager, start from the assumption that, whatever his talents in business, when it comes to football, he's 50-50 to be outwitted by a box of rocks. When you hear that the Redskins' Daniel Snyder wants to be more involved in the direction of the team, like Jerry Jones in Dallas, try to suppress laughter.

Next, when analyzing all these NFL mega-moves, remember the words of one furious NFL executive this season. Watching his team lose, he yelled, ''If (our coach) wants to commit suicide, all he'd have to do is jump from his ego to his I.Q.''

In the NFL, all these high-level moves seem to be interlocking pieces of one enormous puzzle. This year, the Redskins, or ex-Redskins, are at the center of almost every hiring-firing tangle. Yet, the most likely result is that the Redskins will end up back almost exactly where they were before Norv Turner was fired.

Snyder will still be the owner and Joe Mendes his salary cap expert. And, once again, the team will have a certified offensive genius as a coach. To say that Steve Spurrier has a better NFL mind than Turner is a stretch. He may. Spurrier has to prove it. Turner knew the league's personnel inside out. Spurrier has to learn it. Turner built two Super Bowl champion offenses in Dallas and scored tons of points, despite mediocre quarterbacks, in Washington. Spurrier has won one college title and run up the score on plenty of pigeons.

To complete the parallel, Vinny Cerrato will be rehired as personnel director by next week. Snyder didn't get his top choices for GM, as they've either turned him down (Oakland's Bruce Allen) or been lost, in the case of Bobby Beathard, because of a late-minute breakdown of negotiations.

Beathard had his plane ticket to Washington. But then the old ''my guy will call your guy to work out the details'' went sour. The ''guys'' turned off each other. Bobby did not return Dan's calls over a weekend. Then Dan didn't return Bobby's calls. Money questions arose. Faster than you can say, ''Bobby is back,'' the love affair was over. Snyder-Beathard-Spurrier, now we'll never know.

Now, Cerrato's back in the picture. When a fourth-year owner and rookie NFL coach choose their personnel expert by default, that's scary. That sure wasn't Snyder's Plan A. Once again, as in 2000, the owner's perilously close to being GM.

Cerrato's last two drafts as personnel director in San Francisco were nothing to rave about. His 49er-quarterback-of-the-future, Jim Druckenmiller, was last sighted in the XFL. In Washington, he drafted LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels in 2000. But, at No. 2 and 3, they were America's picks. Cerrato's legacy was as one of the architects of the $100 million gang that finished 8-8.

The Redskins' GM search was typical in a month when few people got the result they expected. Even Spurrier may have been surprised. After quitting at Florida, he signed quickly with the Redskins. Would he have taken more time--even the full ''month'' that he said he expecte --if he'd thought he had a realistic shot at the Tampa Bay job? However, like almost everybody in football, Spurrier assumed Bill Parcells was unretiring to take the Bucs' post.

There are 25 million reasons Spurrier would probably have taken the Redskins' job even if he had been wooed by a Florida town he's loved. But that doesn't make the Bucs feel any better. They take the off-season prize for Most Egg On Face.

Parcells, whose ego is as big as Jupiter, basked in the will-he-or-won't-he attention, then stiffed the Bucs. The NFL was stunned. Parcells' ''no'' was so unexpected that conspiracy theorists are combing the wreckage for an angle. Does he want to be voted into the Hall of Fame this year--he wouldn't be eligible as an active coach--then come back next year, for more money, as the only Man From Canton to coach in the NFL? At least that would be better than the alternative theory: The Tuna smells like a mackerel.

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