SI Vault
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
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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

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He comes by his nickname honestly. Most of Rad's drills are run at full speed. On sweltering country evenings in training camp, his offensive linemen usually are last to get to the beer hole up the highway, their blackboard meeting having plowed on to an hour when, through the screened windows, they can hear crickets. Of a Saturday morning, just before the Steelers are to fly out of Greater Pittsburgh Airport to a Sunday road game, Bad Rad's linemen may be found meeting in an airport room to study a film of a previous day's practice.

"Anytime we've made a film and spent money to do it," Radakovich says, "they're going to go over it. Not for the purpose of having a meeting, but to accomplish something."

Rad's meetings, however, are just a fraction of his sweatshop. Offensive linemen, the least prominent of players, crave playing time and recognition, to feed not only their egos but their bank accounts as well. There are bonuses for linemen who play full time, quarter upon quarter, game after game; yet Radakovich developed eight regulars to play five interior line positions, alternating them by quarters at financial cost to those who otherwise might have monopolized a job. Bonuses also are paid to players who make All-Pro, but Rad blurs his players' images by shifting centers to guard, guards to tackle and tight ends to tackle—even in midgame. No matter that two seasons ago the Steelers' line gave up fewer sacks than any line in the league and last season enabled Steeler backs to amass the third-highest rushing yardage in NFL history—Mullins, Mike Webster, Mansfield, Sam Davis, Gordie Gravelle, Kolb, Jim Clack and Ray Pinney remained unsung in the network booths.

"We do what it takes to win," says Rad. "For one thing, if you can play more than one position, we'll never miss a guy who's hurt. For another, there's the fear incentive—meaning, if you're only playing part time, you better keep hustling to keep your job, and you better know that if you screw up, I don't give a damn. I spell this out. They know exactly where I stand."

They do, and they flee his training-camp meetings to a place called the 19th Hole to vilify him over a cold pitcher. "He's the only coach," says one lineman, "who believes he creates a player."

Perhaps he is. While rival clubs field offensive linemen ranging from 250 to 290 pounds, Bad Rad plays linemen who call themselves Rad's Fleas. Mullins, 244 on the roster, has played at 222; Clack, listed at 250, finished a game at 216; Webster, another program 250, has played at 228. "If you can do it," says Rad, out there on his planet, light-years from traditional pro football precepts, "who gives a damn how big you are?" Pulling and trapping, buzzing opponents from every angle, Rad's Fleas do it, taught to eschew widely accepted heads-up blocking and elbows-out technique. It is speed, then, that carries the day for Rad's Fleas? Rad to Earth, confusedly: "No. We're interested in power, and the hell with speed."

When Khrushchev banged his shoe on his desk at the United Nations, he created no more commotion than routinely marks Rad's meetings. Rad encourages dispute and gets it. Mullins, chronically morose but somehow all out on Sundays, is to Rad what Khrushchev was to Adlai Stevenson. In a practice-field moment of questionable judgment, Rad once seized a flat, hand-held dummy to demonstrate a drill, whereupon Mullins ecstatically charged into him, drove him fully half the football field, dumped him onto his back with a thud, and then, helmet-first, speared him sickeningly in the pit of his belly. Moon's complaint is that at 222 or somewhat upwards, he should not be made to switch from guard to tackle.

"I'm not going to," Moon declared, making a stand late last season.

"Well," replied Rad, "your name will be announced as a starting tackle. You make up your mind whether you're going to run out onto the field."

Moon answered the introduction. Says Rad, "I really don't care about his personal feelings. We want to win games."

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