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No Joke
Rick Telander
October 17, 1994
Four Consecutive Super Bowl losses have made Buffalo Bill coach Marv Levy a target of jests, but seriously, folks, he's one of the NFL's best
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October 17, 1994

No Joke

Four Consecutive Super Bowl losses have made Buffalo Bill coach Marv Levy a target of jests, but seriously, folks, he's one of the NFL's best

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Most of Smerlas's attitude springs from the less-than-up-front way he felt Levy left him unprotected under Plan B in 1990. "I wanted him to tell me face-to-face what was happening," Smerlas says. "For a while I wanted to head-butt him to death." Smerlas shrugs. "But who wants to tell a 300-pound Greek he has to go?"

Even Steve Tasker, Levy's beloved special teams ace—and the first player Levy acquired after replacing fired Bill coach Hank Bullough with seven games to go in the 1986 season—acknowledges that Levy has one glaring shortcoming: "He's not a strong motivator, and he covers himself by saying, if I have to motivate you on game day, then I've got the wrong team.' Still, there are times when we need to get chewed out. But Marv doesn't have it in him to do it." And yet, Tasker adds, Levy knows this. His defensive coordinator is Walt Corey, a man who never found a butt he couldn't blister. "Walt will just scream," says Tasker. "You need that on defense. But offense, that's more subdued and cerebral. You have to be on your toes, reading defenses. There really isn't time for ranting and raving."

No. 5. "What do you mean there's two more quarters?"

Part of the deal is that Levy is just an old-fashioned gentleman. Rusty Jones, his strength and conditioning coordinator, gets the players into tip-top, low-fat shape, and Levy teaches them what to do. It's that simple. "Why would players respect you if you're just brutal?" asks Levy. In fact, Levy's teams are always well rested and full of pep. "I think we have beaten teams because their enthusiasm has been dulled or, physiologically, they've left it elsewhere." says Levy. He hates scrimmages, senseless contact and dangerous drills. "I liked Bear Bryant, and I watched his practices at Alabama," Levy continues. "They weren't Bataan death marches. Paul Brown used to say, 'The coach who scrimmages all the time doesn't know what to practice.' "

So what about the full-metal skirmishes encouraged by a coach like, say. Buddy Ryan? "As Bobby Dodd from Georgia Tech once said, 'The longer it's been since a coach played, the more he forgets what it's like to play,' " Levy says.

One of Levy's heroes when he was a kid was Joe Louis. The Brown Bomber intrigued him partly because of his skill at a dangerous game but most of all because of his modesty and security as a man. "After a win he'd say, 'Just another lucky night,' " Levy says. "But you knew it wasn't. In football your players shouldn't have to prove their manhood every day. As Bud Wilkinson used to say, 'You can make a player prove he's tough so many times that finally he'll no longer enjoy the game.' "

It is far better, in Levy's philosophy, to have a coach who is thinking than a coach who is testing. "There are so many drill sergeants, and of course there are those with no control." says Hull. "But Marv is such a diplomat. He won't humiliate you, but he will call you to the office and fine you. He can reprimand someone like Bruce Smith without embarrassing him."

Levy keeps Tasker and fellow special teams expert Mark Pike on the Bills even though neither is a very skilled position player. Because Levy has allowed them to become adept at their phases of the game, they have won far more games for the Bills than ""skilled" bench warmers could have. Why don't other coaches use their rosters this way? "I couldn't tell you," says Tasker.

No. 4. "Let's plan exactly how you're gonna dump the Gatorade on me."

No. 3. "O.K., boys, get out there and start sucking."

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