Of the 18 players Landry has drafted in the first three rounds since 1983, only four are starters. Shula's No. 1 draft choices of late have been particularly sour. Among them are such nonstars as linebacker Jackie Shipp ('84), running back Lorenzo Hampton ('85) and defensive end Eric Kumerow ('88). To be fair, John Offerdahl, a second-rounder in '86, and Troy Stradford, fourth-rounder in '87, became AFC Rookies of the Year.
Nonetheless, if Shula had had an autonomous general manager, would he have traded the rights to Anthony Carter for linebacker Robin Sendlein, who's now organizing youth athletic programs for the city of Las Vegas? Would he have traded up in the 1987 draft to get wideout Scott Schwedes, who has yet to catch his first NFL pass? Would he have drafted 227-pound linebacker Jay Brophy—who lasted two seasons before being released—in the second round in 1984?
Giving a general manager power means giving up control, and Noll, Shula and Landry are nothing if not control coaches. Landry, for instance, is his own offensive coordinator. The legends like to control their players' heads as well. 'The media cover everything today, no matter how minute," says Koch. "Players don't like to be embarrassed in public. The drill-sergeant type is on the way out."
Noll's heavy hand, according to Bradshaw, has caused an 18-year rift between them. The perception was that Nell nurtured Bradshaw through the rough early years in Pittsburgh. "Bull," says Bradshaw. "He didn't nurture me through anything. He virtually destroyed me. For five years he played with me like a yo-yo. I was a country boy, and he didn't like it. I didn't study like Johnny Unitas. I was silly and I was immature, I know that. He humiliated me in public. I hated everything about Chuck Noll in my early years."
The two came to suffer one another during the Steelers' glory years, but when Bradshaw's elbow was hurting near the end of his career, Noll announced, "Maybe it's time Mr. Bradshaw got on with his life's work." To this day, that remark galls Bradshaw. "I thought, Why am I being treated like this?" he says. "All I wanted at the end was a kind word. I won't let him forget it. I didn't want to go out with this [imitating Noll's voice], 'Maybe it's time Mr. Bradshaw got on with his life's work.' Well, Mr. Noll, maybe now it's time you get on with yours."
Raider owner Al Davis might agree with Bradshaw. Davis thinks no coach should stay on for more than 10 years because they wear out. History concurs. Since 1932, when the NFL first held a postseason championship game, George Halas won four NFL titles in his first 11 seasons at the helm of the Chicago Bears but only one in his last 19. Curly Lam-beau of the Packers, Chicago Cardinals and Redskins won two in his first eight years but only one in his final 14. Steve Owen of the Giants won two in his first seven years but none in his last 15. The coach of the NFL champion has been, on average, in his eighth year. The average age of the winning Super Bowl coach has been 47.3.
Is it a young man's game? Dick Vermeil of the Eagles burned out at 40, John Madden of the Raiders at 42 with an ulcer. Landry has rebuilt the Cowboys before, but he has never tried it at 64. "It takes a lot of youth to rebuild." says Bradshaw. Only one coach in league history has won a championship after having served 12 consecutive seasons with one team—Landry in his 18th.
Nobody is saying Landry and Noll will be fired soon—though if Bum Bright succeeds in selling the Cowboys, a new owner might have his own ideas as to who should coach the team—and Shula is certainly secure in his job. And don't count on any of them quitting. "You work seven days in a row, sleep at the office three nights a week, work 27 weekends in a row." says Bud Grant, one of the rare coaches to walk away while still on top. "You don't see anybody, hardly read anything. You put some gas in your car, maybe get your hair cut, but that's about it. It's all you know. So guys want to coach as long as they can."
Says Bradshaw, "When you're a player and can't win anymore, they let you go—right then and there. But legendary coaches stay on forever. Everyone says to Noll, 'You're the best thing that's ever happened to Pittsburgh.' But for three of the last five years he's had a losing record. Someone had better get it in gear."
O.K., say you do get the legends to hang up their golden whistles. What then? Who then? Said Cowboy defensive back Everson Walls recently, "From all these people who want to fire Landry, I want to know one thing: Who's going to replace him? It's like replacing Vince Lombardi. I guarantee you that 10 years from now everybody will be saying, 'Yeah, but this guy is no Tom Landry.' "