SI Vault
 
'BETTER THAN WORKING FOR A LIVING'
Myron Cope
September 12, 1977
They check beds, chew out men often twice their size and watch game films until their eyes half fall out. They are pro football's assistant coaches, and in Pittsburgh, at least, they never go onward and upward
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 12, 1977

'better Than Working For A Living'

They check beds, chew out men often twice their size and watch game films until their eyes half fall out. They are pro football's assistant coaches, and in Pittsburgh, at least, they never go onward and upward

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

For Gary Dunn, pleasant and well-bred, a grandson of the founder of the University of Miami, the workout surely cannot end too soon. He is the seventh and last defensive lineman on the Steeler payroll. Insecure, he cannot afford to give less than his utmost to Defensive Line Coach George Perles as Perles runs his men through a contact drill against the offensive line.

"Dunn!" snaps an offensive lineman, regarding the rookie's hustle as a union hod carrier might disapprove of an apprentice who has not learned to jake it. "You come full speed once more, we're gonna break both your legs."

"I can't help it," Dunn whispers, plaintively. "George is making me do it."

Dunn is Perles' catalyst, setting a full-speed pace for the others. Now Perles, a squat buffalo of a man, is whooping at the offensive linemen, "We beat you! We beat you! That's a Coke!" The offensive linemen, certain they have held back the charge a creditable five seconds, are retorting with foul language, convinced Perles will flat-out lie to claim victory for his men.

"All those field generals out there!" says Ray Mansfield, a 14-year NFL center who this season has retired to a comfortable insurance business. "They don't care if the whole practice is screwed up, long as their outfit looks good."

Perles, like the other assistants, actually is coaching a series of miniature football games throughout the week, striving determinedly to win each one. Defensive and offensive linemen, once they have clapped on their helmets, dislike one another, simply because nobody enjoys being on the receiving end of a blow or being made to look foolish by a deceptive maneuver. So Perles is going to feed the low fire that flashes when the helmets go on, to keep sharp his famous front four—L. C. Greenwood, Joe Greene, Ernie (Fats) Holmes and Dwight White. That their small victories of penetration are won at the expense of the offensive line is no concern of Perles.

"The good assistant coach," Mansfield muses, "says, 'The hell with those guys, let's do our job.' "

Not the least bit humorously, Mansfield remembers a critical week in the Steelers' rise to NFL prominence. As they headed into their final regular-season game of 1972, at San Diego, a victory would give them the first divisional title in the club's 40-year history. Noll therefore decided to encamp his team for the week at Palm Springs in order to be assured of salubrious practice weather. His offensive linemen, all but four of them seriously hurting, looked forward to the desert sun. "Moon Mullins," says Mansfield, "was coming off a pop in the head and still didn't know where he was."

Bused to a baseball field, the players went to work, the offensive line out in left field going through the motions in a pass-protection drill against Perles' front four. At half speed, Mullins moved into a block on Fats Holmes, whereupon the massive Holmes, in Mansfield's words, "unloaded on Moon like to kill him."

"Hey! We've only got four healthy guys!" shouted Mansfield.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6