If Cincy falters, the Oilers will be there to mop up. If Houston has to do it on its own, well....
New CLEVELAND BROWNS coach Bud Carson is the Johnny Sain of football. Sain was a great pitching coach. The players loved him and the fans loved him. Managers, however, found him tough to handle, and he drifted from team to team. Carson developed the great Steeler Super Bowl defenses of the '70s. He was just as effective with the Super Bowl Rams of 1980, but he was axed when coach Ray Malavasi got rid of most of his assistants in '82.
After that, Carson didn't hit it off with Frank Kush in Baltimore or John Mackovic in Kansas City. Joe Walton knew enough not to mess with him on the Jets, whom he joined as defensive coordinator in '85, and he did wonders for them. But by the end of the 1988 season he was 57 and bitter, having watched less qualified people land head-coaching jobs.
When the Cleveland offer came, he jumped, without any complaints about the many conditions attached. He had minimal input in the draft, and he didn't have a free hand in hiring his assistants. Browns owner Art Modell promised Jet owner Leon Hess that none of Carson's Jet assistants would be hired. Carson has kept his mouth shut as he gets ready to make the best of his first chance as a head coach in the pros. Modell is a tough guy to buck. Carson's predecessor, Marty Schottenheimer, tried it last year and came out second best, despite the remarkable job he did getting Cleveland into the playoffs after losing his top three quarterbacks to injuries.
The defense will be excellent, and it will attack—out of a 4-3, with All-Pro cornerback Hanford Dixon shifted to free safety. The offense is geared for speed with the addition of rookie wideout Lawyer Tillman and 5'9" minibacks Eric Metcalf, the first-round pick, and Mike Oliphant, who came from the Redskins. Bernie Kosar is healthy, and Marc Trestman, his quarterback coach in college, has been promoted to offensive coordinator. If the Browns have a winning year, Carson will have a stronger hand next season. If they disappoint, he'll be a bitter 58-year-old.
For the first time in memory, a Rooney criticized coach Chuck Noll of the PITTSBURGH STEELERS—indirectly, at least. The day after a 27-7 loss to Cleveland in November, Dan Rooney, the team's president and owner, said he was unhappy with "coaching decisions" and "stupid plays." He promised an extensive off-season evaluation of the organization.
In late December, Noll was told to fire four assistants. He said he would quit first. After his fourth meeting with Rooney, Noll nodded a sad assent, and the quartet was gone. A fifth assistant, defensive coordinator Tony Dungy, quit on his own. Shortly thereafter, in a remarkable bit of bad timing, Rooney announced that Noll "will remain with the organization for the rest of his career." Noll didn't get ripped around the league—as Ron Meyer of Indianapolis and Dan Reeves of Denver did when they fired several of their assistants in December—but eyebrows were raised.
Rod Rust is the new defensive coach, and, refreshingly, he's one of the few who does not come off the bus screaming, "Attack! Attack! Attack!" His approach is more cerebral. Pittsburgh will have only one special-teams coach, George Stewart. Last year it had two, counting Noll, and this Gong Show approach resulted in the Steelers having an NFL-record six punts blocked. Tom Donahoe, who had been a scout, will regularly evaluate the players. The Steelers have never put themselves under the microscope like that before.
What will all this mean on the field? Hard to tell. Pittsburgh finished '88 by winning three of its last four games. Bubby Brister is the first Steeler quarterback to draw smiles since Terry Bradshaw. The draft could supply plenty of help—running back Tim Worley, wideout Derek Hill, strong safety Carnell Lake and tackle Tom Ricketts could all start this year. A sleeper, ninth-round pick A.J. Jenkins, will be a pass-rush specialist. Pittsburgh is young and exciting, which is what a team on the rebound is supposed to be.
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