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Inside The NFL

Dec. 10, 2001
Dec. 10, 2001

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Dec. 10, 2001

Catching Up With...

Inside The NFL

Bearing Down
Chicago is making a playoff push with a coach whose job may be
on the line

This is an article from the Dec. 10, 2001 issue

With 21 seconds left in the ugly scrum between the underwhelming
Bears and the winless Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field, Chicago
coach Dick Jauron stared at one of the most reliable kickers in
the game, Detroit's Jason Hanson, as he lined up for a 40-yard
field goal attempt. With the Bears ahead by three points,
overtime loomed, but Jauron had a stoic look on his face. That
expression never changed, even as the kick sailed wide right and
47 Bears leaped into the air.

"Like Tom Landry," quarterback Jim Miller said later of his
coach. "The guy does not waver. And we've taken on his
personality."

It is a personality that emerged when Jauron was growing up as
the son of an itinerant high school and college football coach,
and it is no different now that his team, stunningly, controls
its destiny for home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. It
darn well isn't going to change even if his job is secure only
through this season. That's because the club's new general
manager, Jerry Angelo, who has final say on all player and
coaching moves, has intimated that he's not sure Jauron is the
man he wants to lead his team. Although Chicago improved to 9-2
with a 13-10 win on Sunday, Angelo said after the game that
decisions about the coaching staff will be made following the
season.

Angelo has handled the matter inelegantly. In October he said he
wasn't sure that he and Jauron, who's under contract through the
2002 season, were a long-term fit. That fueled speculation that
Angelo might dump his coach no matter how the Bears finished and
hire a guy more to his liking, perhaps LSU's Nick Saban. A
30-year veteran of the pro and college ranks, Angelo has worked
as an assistant coach, scout and personnel director, and he had
hoped to hire his own coaching staff when he finally got his
chance to run a team.

However, he didn't take over in Chicago (replacing vice
president of player personnel Mark Hatley, now with the Packers)
until June 12, tying his hands for this season even though the
Bears had been nothing special in Jauron's first two years
(going 11-21). Now, the way the team is performing and the way
the players have united behind their coach, Angelo has realized
that he'd be foolish even to talk about tinkering with things.
"Dick and the staff are doing a great job, and you'd have to be
blind not to see that," Angelo said on Sunday.

For now the two men, who are expected to have a series of
meetings as the season winds down, aren't talking about Jauron's
future. Angelo, though, has told friends on other teams that he
has no intention of replacing Jauron after this season. "If he
does," Miller says, "the way we're playing, that would be a
pretty difficult decision in this town. The guy's up for coach
of the year. He wouldn't be out of work for long."

Players and assistants point to the patience that Jauron, 51, a
former NFL defensive back, showed during two disappointing
seasons as a big reason that Chicago is winning. They also note
the steely leadership he has displayed this year in keeping the
Bears positive when they were trailing late in games. In
successive weeks they overcame 15- and 14-point fourth-quarter
deficits to the 49ers and the Browns, respectively, to win in
overtime. "The guys who've been here with Dick owe him
something, because he put his guts on the line for us for a
couple of years when we weren't good," says linebacker Rosevelt
Colvin. "He's the type of leader you want to play for. In three
years here I've only seen him really yell at a guy one time."

Jauron learned early in life that leaders don't have to be
holler guys. The star of the Swampscott (Mass.) High basketball
team, Jauron went to his coach, Dick Lynch, in 1969 to tell him
he should keep a marginal player named Frannie Sheehan on the
team. Mike Lynch, a Jauron buddy and the coach's son, picks up
the story from there. "Dick told my dad that Frannie's home life
was rough and he really needed basketball," Mike recalls. "My
dad said he had only 15 uniforms and Frannie would be the 16th
kid. But Dick said he counted and found 16 pairs of shorts; he
said he'd let Frannie wear his warmup jacket. Dick told my dad
that when Frannie came in the game, he would go out and would
give Frannie his jersey. We went on to win the state
championship, and Frannie was the guy who cut the net down."

Frannie is also the guy who became the bass player for the rock
group Boston in the 1970s and '80s. "My dad always wonders what
would have happened to Frannie if Dick hadn't come in that day
and asked him to keep Frannie on the team," says Mike Lynch.
"That's the kind of leader Dick was. He was brought up to think
he was no more important than anyone else."

Reminded of the story after Sunday's game, Jauron downplayed
what he'd done, and he downplayed the notion that his team has
taken on his personality. "This team," he said, "has taken on
its own personality. The players realize that no one is more
important than anyone else in that locker room."

St. Louis Turnovers
Rams Dropping The Ball

Although everyone mouths the cliche, "No one can beat us but
ourselves," the only team to which it truly applies this season
is the Rams, whose two losses (by a total of 10 points) were the
result of turnovers. In those defeats they turned the ball over
a total of 14 times. In their nine wins--by an average of 18.3
points--they've turned the ball over 19 times. Their league-high
33 turnovers put them on pace to cough up the ball 48 times this
season. The 1979 Steelers are the only Super Bowl champions to
have led the league in turnovers (with 52). "We are at a
critical point with the turnovers," Rams coach Mike Martz
admitted last week. "They have to stop. Too many guys are
playing too well for us to blow the season."

After the Rams turned the ball over six times in their Nov. 26
loss to the Bucs, Martz refused to blister his players. "You can
destroy players and your team by haranguing them, and I refuse
to do that," Martz says. "I addressed each player individually.
Like with Az [Hakim], he feels every time he touches the ball,
he's going to score. He has to accept that sometimes you've got
to take a four-yard gain. We talked. I know he'll accept that
now."

In Atlanta on Sunday, the Rams rolled over the Falcons 35-6. For
only the second time this season they didn't turn the ball over.
The other? It was a 42-10 win over the Dolphins on Sept. 30.

Have Game, Will Travel
Road Teams Right at Home

From 1990 through 2000 home teams won 59.2% of the time. This
year home teams are 88-85, winning at a 50.9% rate. Lately road
teams have even had an edge; in November visiting clubs were
35-25. The prevailing theories try to explain this trend by
pointing to parity--what else?--and the ability of the road team
to shut out distracting crowd noise.

"When you bring your team in for the third or fourth time to a
place where it's typically difficult to play, it becomes
easier," says Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Players now practice
more using piped-in noise, so they're more accustomed to playing
in raucous venues.

Parity's a bigger deal, Steelers coach Bill Cowher believes.
"You don't have the dominant teams anymore, year in and year
out," Cowher says, "so few teams build up a big winning edge on
their home fields. I'm sure a lot of it is due to the constant
change in the makeup of teams."

Here's another possibility: The new stadiums simply aren't as
intimidating. In Washington, RFK Stadium was a pit; FedEx Field
is antiseptic. When the crowd got raucous at Mile Hile in
Denver, the ground shook; Broncos players are down on the minor
edge that new Invesco Field gives them.

My Two Cents
Give Browns' Davis His Due

1. Among many deserving candidates for coach of the year, one
man stands out. Cleveland's Butch Davis took over a team with a
toothless offense that was 5-27 in its first two seasons since
returning to the league. In their season the Browns are 6-5 and
in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

2. No question the frenetic energy of Lions quarterback Mike
McMahon must be harnessed a little, but--I never thought I would
say this about a Rutgers quarterback--his arm, mobility and guts
are all of NFL-starter quality. Once he learns the playbook and
becomes more disciplined, he's going to be a heck of a player.

Send your pro football questions for Peter King's mailbag and
read more from Paul Zimmerman at cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG Brian Urlacher (54) and Bryan Robinson anchor the league's No. 3 defense in points allowed.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO The Rams turned the ball over eight times--including this Sammy Knight interception--in losing to the Saints.

the football Beat

--WORD ASSOCIATION
With Bucs wideout Keyshawn Johnson, first in the league in
catches (83) but still looking for his first touchdown

SI: 2000 versus 2001.

Johnson: I'm in an offense that uses me the right way as opposed
to a year ago. The perception last year was that I wasn't
getting it done. Correction: I wasn't allowed to get it done.

SI: Rams.

Johnson: Our defense is in their heads.

SI: Football's best receiver.

Johnson: Me. I can do it all. I'm not one-dimensional. Not a
stat guy. You watch me block, and I don't just get in a guy's
way. I dominate my man.

SI: Tony Dungy.

Johnson: Great coach. Could find himself in a tough situation if
we don't take care of business. Tony's a guy I love playing for.

SI: Warren Sapp.

Johnson: Defensive player who can give a spark to this team when
we need it. But as I've said before, I deal with him because I
have to, not because I want to.

SI: Wayne Chrebet.

Johnson: Good receiver. I've got to be careful with this one.
He's proved to people he can play.

SI: Life after football.

Johnson: Being a success. Running my businesses. Building my
development company to the point where it's one of the top ones
in the world.

SI: Football ownership.

Johnson: It could be in my future. If I'd bet on anyone in
football to be able to do it, I'd bet on me. I can be a managing
partner, like Pat Croce. I would want to be involved in the
football decisions. I'd definitely want to be the guy who signs
the checks.

SI: Perfect day off.

Johnson: Anything that makes me money.

--MATCH GAME
Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey versus Cardinals wide receiver
David Boston

Cowboys quarterback Quincy Carter, who used to throw passes to
multipurpose star Bailey when they were teammates at Georgia,
caught the Washington defensive back guessing curl route when it
was a go pattern in the fourth quarter of Dallas's 20-14 win on
Sunday. The rare mistake resulted in a game-winning 64-yard
touchdown pass to Rocket Ismail. "I hate to say it, but things
like this are going to happen," Bailey said. "Now I've got to
get ready for another great receiver." That would be Boston,
who, very quietly, is having an extraordinary season--72
catches, a league-high 1,171 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

--HISTORY BOOK
Dec. 7, 1941: Fans went to a game, and a war broke out

On the final weekend of the regular season, the largest crowd of
the year, 55,051, jammed the Polo Grounds for the game between
the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although the
action was exciting--the Dodgers knocked off the Eastern
Division champion Giants 21-7--the crowd wasn't entirely focused
after hearing a page early in the game asking an Army colonel to
call Washington immediately. As fans left the stadium, an
announcement over the P.A. informed them that Navy personnel
were being ordered to report to their bases immediately, those
in the Army to report the next day. "This is important," the
announcer said. The attack on Pearl Harbor had begun at 12:55
Eastern time, about an hour before the opening kickoff.

Dispatches

Look for Saints running back Ricky Williams, who is averaging
132.4 yards rushing and receiving this year, to push for a
renegotiated contract or a trade in the off-season....

Ravens pro personnel director James Harris, a former NFL
quarterback, after scouting the Colts' Peyton Manning, who leads
the league in interceptions, with 17: "Sometimes, when you lose
a lot of your weapons, you start to get a feeling that you've
got to make things happen by yourself." ...

This shows you the upside of the Jets: They're 7-4, and Vinny
Testaverde hasn't had a 200-yard passing game yet. Assuming he's
allowed to throw deep to wideouts Laveranues Coles and Santana
Moss, Testaverde will lead a more complete offense into the
playoffs....

Cowboys coach Dave Campo is 4-0 versus the Redskins, 4-19
against the rest of the league....

The two coaches with the longest-running tenures with the same
team, the Vikings' Dennis Green and the Steelers' Bill Cowher,
met on Sunday, and Pittsburgh's win left their records
remarkably similar. Including playoff games, Cowher is 100-66 in
10 seasons, Green is 100-67. At .602 Cowher has a better winning
percentage than that of his predecessor, Chuck Noll (.572)....

Don't invite former Lions coach Bobby Ross and Bears quarterback
Jim Miller, who was in Detroit's camp for a cup of coffee in
1998, to the same party. "If Bobby Ross had been the captain of
the Titanic, he would have been the first one in the lifeboats,"
Miller said last week. "The guy's a liar and a loser."