Forget the players; next season NFL fans may not be able to tell the coaches without a scorecard. In the past month there have been eight head-coaching changes—five firings, three resignations. And at least one other coach, St. Louis' Don Coryell, is on hold for the moment.
Coaches, of course, are hired to be fired. Since 1975 24 of them—not to mention four interim coaches—have been hired by the NFL's 28 teams. And of those 24 new coaches, seven have already resigned or been fired themselves.
Until this season's upheaval, though, the NFL had not practiced the baseball pastime of musical chairs. No Alvin Darks moving from San Francisco to Kansas City to Cleveland to Oakland to San Diego to.... Of the 20 coaches hired by NFL teams between 1975 and 1977, before the current outbreak, only one—New Orleans' Hank Stram—had been an NFL head coach. Now, let's start the music, please.
After coaching Los Angeles to five straight divisional titles, Chuck Knox has tobogganed off to Buffalo with the blessings of Ram owner Carroll Rosenbloom. Monte Clark, hired and unhired within a 15-month period by the San Francisco 49ers, has moved from coaching limbo to Detroit.
And in one stunning swirl of 12 hours last week, Jack Pardee abruptly resigned as coach of the Chicago Bears in order to make himself available for the top job in Washington, where the night before it was announced that George Allen had been unceremoniously fired as coach and genera manager—while, as it turned out, he was en route home from Los Angeles after apparently meeting secretly with the Rams to discuss their vacant coach position.
In seven seasons in Washington, Allen had won 67 games, lost just 30 and tied one. He also had taken his Over-the-Hill Gang to the playoffs five times and to the Super Bowl once. Suddenly, however, after not getting the Redskins into the playoffs two of the last three years, he was just another unemployed head coach scrambling for a chair.
Allen's dismissal by Redskin president Edward Bennett Williams sparked some of the juiciest media rumors out of Washington since Elizabeth Ray last flunked her typing test. One theory, advanced by the sage Washington broadcast journalist Sonny Jurgenson, had Allen taking the Los Angeles job and then immediately acquiring his favorite quarterback, Billy Kilmer, in a trade with the Redskins—presumably for future draft choices.
Allen, Jurgenson predicted, would then deal Ram Quarterback Pat Haden to Tampa Bay—where he would be reunited with his former coach at USC, John McKay—in return for the draft rights to Texas Running Back Earl Campbell. Another rumor, obviously inspired by Williams' announcement that, henceforth, he would split between two men the positions of coach and GM that Allen had held, had L.A. General Manager Don Klosterman taking over the GM job in Washington.
From the Sans Souci to Georgetown the Allen-Williams controversy dwarfed Begin-Sadat, and the state of the Redskins became far more important than that of the Union. The Redskin situation was the lead story in The Washington Star the day President Carter made his address to a joint session of Congress, and that night one Washington television station headlined its news with film of Allen and Williams, then noted that "also in the news" was Jimmy Carter's State of the Union message.
At issue between Williams and Allen was a new contract the Redskins had offered to Allen last summer. Allen, in fact, had publicly voiced satisfaction with the details of the agreement as long ago as July 14. Nevertheless, he did not sign. Allen's original Redskin contract—for seven years at $125,000 per—was to expire on March 1. It included an option to purchase 5% of the team's stock for $500,000, which is less than half of the current market value. Allen never exercised that option. His new contract—reportedly for four years at $250,000 per—included no stock option. Allen and his attorney, E. Gregory Hookstratten, insist they verbally agreed to a stock option when they negotiated terms of the new contract with Jack Kent Cooke, the majority owner of the Redskins. According to Allen and Hookstratten, the written version of that contract proposal, which they did not receive until after July 14, contained no mention of the stock option.