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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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"I remember when I quit playing, I had withdrawal pains. Maybe it's the little boy in us. I'm still a little boy. I'm young at heart. I think and I do dumb things at times like little kids do. Maybe that's another reason. And I loved having a team. I loved being part of it, being in the position of fighting it out with somebody. It's a special experience."

Four months after his firing Wiggin still wonders why he was dismissed and ponders what course to take to get another head coaching job. He was not even a "leading" candidate for any of the vacant jobs filled this winter. The NFL rarely offers a second chance to a coach who has more Ls than Ws on his record.

"People have a tendency to say, 'Oh, yeah, he was the coach there. He didn't do very well, did he?' " Wiggins says. "That's something I've got to overcome. The problem is, I'm a damn good football coach. I've got to reestablish that somehow. But I don't know how, and that's a little bit confusing right now. Do you sit tight? What do you do?"

Interim coaches rarely succeed—-or even shake their interim designation—in the NFL. So it was for Tom Bettis, one of the seven assistants on Wiggin's staff. In accepting the job as Kansas City's interim head coach, Bettis was moved by what he felt was an obligation to the players, a moral obligation to the Chiefs and a trusting belief that Lamar Hunt would give him more than seven games to prove himself.

"I had them by the short hairs and didn't take advantage of it from a contract basis," Bettis says bitterly. "I should have asked them for a one-year contract, but I just couldn't think of myself at that time. It wasn't the way I envisioned getting the opportunity. I believed in people and thought I'd get a fair chance."

He didn't. On Dec. 19, Hunt, Steadman and Schaaf appeared en masse in Bettis' office and advised him that he and the other Chiefs coaches were fired.

Bettis should have known it would happen. The Chiefs had treated him shabbily long before his association with Wiggin, who calls Bettis "the best-kept secret in football." Bettis coached under Stram in K.C., too, and Stram once refused to grant Houston permission to interview Bettis for its then-vacant head coach's job. Bettis heard about the Oilers' request some time later, and he has rarely talked to Stram since.

Now unemployed, Bettis is considering opportunities in business. "Coaching is an unstable situation," he says. "A lot of factors out of your control affect your destiny. I don't know if it's worth it to stay in football at this point. It's like starting over again. Some guys are like nomads, but I don't like that situation. I've been spoiled by being in Kansas City, which my family loves, for 12 years. I can see a lot of plusses in getting out. Just ask yourself: How many assistants are around at age 55?"

When it came, Bettis' firing was almost anticlimactic, but no less painful for his family. "My two daughters came home from college and we discussed where I was going to go," he says. "I wasn't afraid of not getting another football job, and I'm still considering what I'll do. But life goes on. I've always been a positive person and you can't be remorseful too long."

Tom Pratt, 42, deserves a category of his own in the NFL Record Manual: "Most Coaches Worked for, One Year." A defensive line coach who had been employed by the Chiefs for 15 years, Pratt had Wiggin and Bettis fired out from over him last season. In January, Stram signed him to a two-year contract with New Orleans. Stram himself got the ax two weeks later, a few days after Pratt had purchased a home in New Orleans. Pratt eventually was hired by the new coach of the Saints, Dick Nolan. Between his two hirings by the Saints, Pratt lived in a New Orleans motel for almost a month, waiting to plead his case before the new head coach while his family stayed in Kansas City.

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