Even before I arrived at Stephen F. Austin for my coaching debut, I had my three plays. One I got from my friend, Larry Peccatiello, the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins. However, I did check it out with Bobby Ross, the coach at Maryland. It was intended to yield 10 to 12 yards or, if we could hit the flanker, to get us an even bigger gain. The play begins with the setback on the left side going in motion—first heading toward the left sideline and then doubling back to become a lead blocker. Then the quarterback fakes to the fullback up the middle, fakes the pitch to the running back on a right-side sweep and either hits the tight end who's coming across the middle or the flanker going deep, depending on what coverage the defense is in. We called it 124. That was my biggie. But I wanted to set it up with a sweep to the right. For my third play I selected a quick pitch to the tailback, run out of the I formation.
Fine. The Lumberjacks practiced the quick pitch, the sweep and the 124 all week and they looked good. Only I was getting a little too intense. When the first-string offensive linemen didn't block the way I wanted them to against the scout squad, I'd gotten the bad habit of going over and shaking some of those large people around by their shoulder pads. Coach Hess finally told me, "Why don't you go over there and work with our kicker and punter. Hell, I'm scared you'll hurt some of my little boys."
The man probably saved my life.
Everyone's always talking about how flaky kickers and punters are. Of course they are. Nobody ever pays them the slightest bit of attention. There aren't five coaches in the world who ever kicked or punted a football. Consequently, the kickers and punters are always over there on the sideline by themselves. I know. I was a punter myself.
So I was glad to spend time with the punter, Andy Gamble. We worked a lot on his drop and his coordination and timing, and I told him how Ray Guy used rosin on the right side of his kicking shoe to get more friction on the ball, thereby producing a better spiral. My words would have an effect later.
By the end of the week I felt as if I'd volunteered for a lunatic asylum. The team practiced 2� hours a day, and the rest of the time the coaches were in meetings, going over the strategy again and again. I didn't get enough sleep that week to add up to a catnap. Some nights we broke up at about 2 a.m.
Then Saturday finally came. Angelo State came to play. The only things that were keeping us in the game were Gamble's booming punts and some pretty good defense. From our 26-yard line Gamble got off one of 52 yards that, according to my stopwatch, had a hang time of 4.5 seconds. That kind of punting could get you a nice contract in the NFL.
Midway into the second quarter, we finally scraped together some offense and, after a sustained drive, had the ball first-and-goal on their four-yard line. And what does Coach Hess do now? With four downs to make four yards, he calls a pass to split end Floyd Dixon that's overthrown by quarterback Tod Weder. Then he calls a pitch to fullback Michael LeBlanc that results in a fumble. The Rams recover.
It's about 400-yards to the field house at halftime, and I'm right beside Coach Hess and in his ear the whole time. I said, "We're first-and-goal at the four. Four downs! Why didn't you punch it in?"
Coach Hess says, as we're trotting, "I don't know. Give me a break, Coach!"