The quips come in sudden spasms. "When I was born," says Jerry Glanville, the coach of the Houston Oilers, "the doctor looked at me and spanked my mom." On a 300-pound player he cut during training camp: "This guy was so fat it looked like someone sat in his lap and didn't leave." On why he would never own a horse: "I don't want to keep anything that eats while I'm sleeping, including a wife."
Nowhere is Glanville's patter more spirited than on his Monday evening radio show. Amid balloons and streamers and clinking glasses in the High Chapparal Room of the Marriott Astrodome, Glanville trades genial insults and talks football with telephone callers and patrons of the hotel. Normally, the ambience of the Jerry Glanville Show is cocktail-party cheery. But on a recent Monday most of the audience seemed glum and slightly embarrassed, like guests at a bash where the host has committed some indiscretion nobody wants to acknowledge. A few fans were angry. The Oilers had just committed a 23-13 loss to the patsy New England Patriots to fall to 2-3, which was a little unsettling for a team many had picked to win the AFC Central Division.
The critiques being thrown Glanville's way bordered on unnecessary roughness. The irate fans lambasted his strategy, his leadership, his manhood. Glanville told them he was thinking of putting out a novelty item called Glanville-in-a-Box. "It'll have detachable limbs," he said. "You can hurl them at your TV during Oilers telecasts."
Finally, an old-timer in the crowd stood up. He wore satin gym shorts and a morning-after stubble. No shirt. "The fans all think you deserve to be fired," he said. "The media say your days are numbered. Well, if a student gets an F, you don't fire the teacher. And, Mr. Glanville, you're the teacher." Glanville set his mouth in a small smile, adjusted his microphone and said, "I want to say personally that I appreciate my son coming to the show."
Lately the mood at the Marriott has perked up considerably. Two weeks ago, the Oilers upset the Bears 33-28 in Chicago, and on Sunday they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-0 at the Dome to move into a first-place tie with the Cincinnati Bengals. Yet Glanville remains as unfazed by the recent good fortune as he was by the bad. He knows those clamoring for his dismissal have simply turned down the volume for a while. "I'm always a game away from a hanging," he says.
Granville had been an NFL assistant for 12 years when the Oilers promoted him to head coach late in the 1985 season. In the four years before he took over, Houston had gone 1-8, 2-14, 3-13, 5-11. "When I got here in '84, we had the nicest guys in the NFL," he says. "Their mamas loved 'em. Their daddies loved 'em. But they wouldn't hit if you handed 'em sticks."
He recalls a 1984 game against Pittsburgh in which half a dozen Steelers jumped offside and flattened Houston quarterback Warren Moon, whose teammates stood around gaping. "It made me nauseous," says Glanville, who was then the Oilers' defensive coordinator. "I knew then we'd never be any good if we didn't protect each other like family."
Glanville re-created the Oilers in his own brash image. He installed a buck-shot four-wideout offense called the Red Gun and instilled a smash-mouth spirit in the defense that some think crosses the chalk line of football propriety. The Oilers became known as the Bad Boys, the Astrodome as the House of Pain. Houston went 9-6 in 1987 and made the playoffs for the first time since '80. Last year the Oilers were 10-6 in the regular season before losing to the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the playoffs.
"Now we're so cocky we'd play Russian roulette with a guillotine," says Glanville. Laughter erupts in a sly cackle from the side of his mouth. Like a prizefighter's laugh. Or a bully's. "Jerry's a very tough guy," says Todd Menig, an old friend. "But he's also a gentle, soft human being. A lot of it has to do with growing up without a father."
Glanville, the son of a Ford salesman, grew up in a Detroit housing project. His parents divorced when he was in the 10th grade, and after that he lived with his mother in Perrysburg, Ohio. Her father and brother were both part-time coaches, and she told Jerry, "Do whatever you want in life, just don't ever coach."