Where Did Love Go?
Green Bay Blues
When asked about his future on numerous occasions during the 1997 season, Packers coach Mike Holmgren invariably said that someday, somewhere, he would like to be a general manager-coach with authority over all football operations. And so Holmgren hoped—and expected—that after the season Green Bay might get a phone call from a team asking for permission to interview him for just such a post, a job he knew he probably would never be offered in Green Bay, where state-of-the-art general manager Ron Wolf is signed through 2002. But three days after the Super Bowl, Packers president Bob Harlan told Holmgren that if a team called to ask permission to speak to Holmgren, whose contract inns through the end of the 1999 season, the request would be denied. "A contract is a contract," Harlan said on Monday, "and I don't like people jumping contracts. It's not right."
Harlan's right. And the NFL should slam the door on this kind of thing for good. Right now. In 1987, then commissioner Pete Rozelle stopped Bill Parcells from breaking his contract as Giants coach to go to the Falcons after New York had won Super Bowl XXI. But Parcells seemed to loosen the legal and ethical restraints last year when, without permission but with much public unpleasantness, he muscled his way out of his Patriots contract in an attempt to take over the Jets. It was an ugly situation that eventually was settled by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who awarded New England four draft picks. When a coach signs a contract, he shouldn't be allowed to coach for another team—unless he's fired—before the end of that contract. No ifs, ands or buts.
Even Holmgren concedes that he's troubled by the notion that the hot coach of the postseason should be free to walk out on his club. But this isn't a dead issue with him. "This isn't Watergate," Holmgren said, smiling wryly, at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis last Saturday. "I'm just a football coach. But I come out of this looking like a greedy schmuck, and this has never been about money. It's just the challenge of professionally pushing yourself to the limit and seeing if you can do something. That's why I'd like to be a coach and general manager. Someday. I never had a timetable that it had to be this year. Maybe it never will happen. But to have even a chance at it denied—I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed."
There's no need to feel sorry for Holmgren, who makes about $1.5 million a year; works with one of the game's best general managers, Wolf, and arguably its best player, Brett Favre; and will have to settle for coaching the Super Bowl favorite next season. He's even got a Rogaine commercial. A very good life rolls on, although perhaps not as blissfully as before.
During their rise to the top of the NFL, the Packers have practiced a good-ol'-days harmony seldom seen in these greedy times. Harlan and Holmgren both say they'll get over this. But it's never good—on the field or off—when a coach's faith in his organization has been shaken.
No Workouts For the Famous
As usual, the very top prospects opted for only physicals and mental tests at the Indianapolis combine, preferring to work out for scouts closer to the draft when they've had time to get into top shape. This gave some lesser-knowns, such as Eastern Michigan quarterback Charlie Batch and Utah receiver Kevin Dyson, a chance to shine.
As always, most of the players shook their heads at the Giants' intelligence test, an annual 480-question rite of torture, and laughed about some of the other tests. "The Redskins asked me to put on funny glasses and throw beanbags into buckets," said 309-pound San Diego State tackle Kyle Turley. "They also had me work with building blocks. Seems like a funny way to pick a football player."
One of the few hot players to work out at the combine, Turley solidified his first-round standing by improving his 40-yard-dash time from 5.2 seconds to 4.97. He credits improved training techniques and better nutrition, courtesy of two months at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, Fla., for his greater speed. Another major plus is Turley's feisty attitude. "If you're not a violent person when you put the helmet on, you lose," he says.