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Coach, You're Fired!
Ron Reid
March 13, 1978
In the year of the pink slip, Paul Wiggin of the Kansas City Chiefs was the first of 10 NFL head coaches to be out on the street. In time six of his assistants were released, too. Three have found work, but Wiggin and the others are still looking for the right job
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March 13, 1978

Coach, You're Fired!

In the year of the pink slip, Paul Wiggin of the Kansas City Chiefs was the first of 10 NFL head coaches to be out on the street. In time six of his assistants were released, too. Three have found work, but Wiggin and the others are still looking for the right job

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Wiggin's neighbors rallied behind him, too, and, reacting as if there had been a death in the family, they deluged the Wiggin household with food. A few nights later the Wiggins and three other couples went to dinner at Antoine's on The Boulevard. When Paul walked in, the patrons gave him a standing ovation.

The most wrenching adjustment for a fired coach is learning to cope with idle time. The job of head coach can consume 20 hours a day and is crammed with planning, meetings, practice and other tasks.

"It almost gets to be a love affair between you and your players and your team," Wiggin says. "You've got to love what you're doing, because it gets to be so much a part of your life. It especially became that way with us because when things aren't going the way you want, you're struggling to find the pride you have for the organization you represent. Particularly for your players, you try to find a way to win.

"It's not the winners who are doing a good job. They've got the goose laying the golden eggs. It's that poor bastard who can't get that goose to lay anything, who's dying and working and going through an inner search with himself, daily, trying to find out 'What can I do to get a win this week?' You find yourself obsessed with that. It becomes such an ingrained part of your life that when it's taken away, it's a very emotional experience. When I broke down the day after I got fired, the feeling was, 'They took my team away from me.' It was like they had taken one of my children away from me. The day before I was fired, I would have given $1,000 for a day off. The day after I would have given $5,000 to be back."

In the NFL, 1977 will be remembered as the year of the pink slip. Eight of the league's 28 head coaches were fired and two others resigned. Because the termination of a head coach usually means his staff is terminated as well, some 75 coaches were looking for new jobs. Of the 10 head coaches, three—George Allen ( Redskins), Chuck Knox ( Rams) and Jack Pardee (Bears)—have found new head coaching positions. One—Buffalo's Jim Ringo—is now an assistant coach with New England, while another—Cleveland's Gregg—just joined the San Diego staff as offensive line coach. Wiggin, Don Coryell (Cardinals), Tommy Hudspeth (Lions), Kenny Meyer ( 49ers) and Stram are still out of work.

"It's never been like this year," Wiggin says. "It's become a syndrome, almost like skyjacking. I would be embarrassed for any industry, even, say, the steel business, that in one given year fired almost 40% of the people who make it happen. I can't envision any industry being that far off, or one whose executives are that limited. I can't believe there are that many inept people in football. It doesn't make sense.

"I'll swear to you the most ridiculous thing that's happened in the last three months in Kansas City is not the firing of Paul Wiggin but the firing of Phil Johnson. He was the coach of the [ NBA] Kings. He was Coach of the Year two years ago. I'll bet you if you sat his superiors down and said, 'O.K., guys, you just fired your head coach, Phil Johnson. You fired him in the middle of the season, so evidently there's somebody better. Who's better than Phil Johnson? Somebody give me a name.' Not one of those guys could come up with a name. They fired a guy to fire a guy."

So what's the appeal of coaching?

"I guess everyone thinks he's going to be king of the mountain," Wiggin says. "Or thinks he's going to be Don Shula. It's like politics. Why the hell would anyone want to be President of the United States?"

Wiggin pauses. "The game is a place where I can express Paul Wiggin emotionally. There used to be two pictures on the wall of the 49ers' press room—one of total despair, 20 to 25 people on the sidelines who look like they're witnessing a murder, and right next to it, one of total elation. It represents the spectrum of pro football. And the interesting thing is that those pictures were taken within a minute of each other. That's the thing I would miss if I were to get out of football. I love that.

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