Management will be key for expansion teams

If the new pro football labor deal opens the door to expansion -- that's still a big if -- the next question is obvious:

What will the new free-agency plan mean to expansion teams?


Joel Glazer, the son of Malcolm Glazer, who heads one of the three groups trying to get an expansion team in Baltimore, is selling the idea that it'll make it easier to build an expansion team.

He argues that a well-run expansion franchise won't have to go through years of losing before it becomes respectable because it can buy several good players.


He may be right, but even under the old system, it didn't necessarily take years for an expansion team to become respectable. Paul Brown had the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs by their third season in 1970, the Seattle Seahawks were 9-7 by their third year in 1978 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the NFC title game in their fourth season in 1979 before they fell apart.

And look at Jimmy Johnson. When he took over the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 and went 1-15, they weren't much better than an expansion team and now they're division champions.

Chuck Noll took over a Pittsburgh Steelers team in 1969 that went 1-13 and won a division title in his fourth year.

There's such a turnover in football that it doesn't have to take forever for a team to become competitive.

What this new system is really going to do is put even more importance on finding the right management team. With a salary cap, it's not just a question of buying players. It's fitting them into the cap while building a team. With more than 50 players, it's likely to be an administrative nightmare.

The first priority will be finding a good general manager. That might be the easy part for Baltimore if the city gets a team. Ernie Accorsi, former executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns, is living here and is available, and there's always a chance George Young could be lured from the New York Giants to his hometown.

Finding the right coach will be the tough problem. There aren't a lot of obvious candidates on the horizon.

If Baltimore had gotten a team two or three years ago, Bobby Ross would have been a perfect choice. He was a successful college head coach with experience as a pro assistant.


With his Maryland ties, he probably would have jumped at the chance to come to Baltimore. It's not surprising that Ross has turned the San Diego Chargers around in one year.

The trouble is, there doesn't appear to be another Ross out there right now. The hottest college coach is Dennis Erickson at the University of Miami, but he just signed a seven-year deal and it's uncertain if he wants to coach in the pros. Tom Coughlin, a former Giants assistant coach now at Boston College, may be a good prospect if he doesn't get hired this year.

Among the NFL assistants, the name being mentioned a lot is Dave Wannstedt, the Cowboys defensive coordinator who was the runner-up to Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh last year. He may get a job this year, although it's always difficult to predict whether a good assistant coach will make a good head coach. Bud Carson and Bill Arnsparger are just two examples of good assistants who didn't make it as head coaches.

In the end, finding a good coach may be just a matter of luck. But without a good coach, an expansion team won't become a winner simply by buying players.

The coaching derby

When the regular season ends tomorrow night, the NFL firing season will begin.


The first coach to go will likely be Ray Handley of the Giants.

Eric Allen, the cornerback of the Philadelphia Eagles, said last week, "We'd like Ray to stay, actually." When your foes want you to stay, you're in trouble.

The only question is whether the Giants will bring back Bill Parcells, who quit on May 15, 1991.

Lawrence Taylor has joined the chorus campaigning for Parcells.

"The fans would allow Bill to rebuild this team," Taylor said. "Even if Bill would go 0-16, they would understand."

If Young -- who won't even concede Handley is gone, much less talk about a replacement -- doesn't bring Parcells back, the new coach will be still living in Parcells' shadow. In New York, they've forgotten he once picked Scott Brunner over Phil Simms as his quarterback.


The other coaches who have to worry about their jobs are Joe Bugel of the Phoenix Cardinals, Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears, Art Shell of the Los Angeles Raiders and Dan Reeves of the Denver Broncos.

The crowd for the Cardinals home finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be a factor in deciding Bugel's future. It'll be embarrassing if the Cardinals draw less than the Phoenix Suns, who play in a 19,000-seat arena.

Ditka, as usual, is conducting a sideshow in Chicago, complaining he hasn't gotten a vote of confidence from owner Mike McCaskey. It's hard to be sure if he's serious or if Ditka is just being Ditka.

Reeves hasn't been able to get a new deal from owner Pat Bowlen yet, although he may, while Shell has to wonder if owner Al Davis will blame him for this season's collapse.

The ultimatum

A coach who seems to be on thin ice for next year is Bill Belichick of the Cleveland Browns.


Owner Art Modell is unhappy his team hasn't made the playoffs for three straight years.

"This three-year drought is enough," he said. "There will be no fourth year without the playoffs and I will accept nothing as an alternative to that."

The title

Look for Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys to win the rushing title today. He's five yards behind Barry Foster of the Pittsburgh Steelers -- 1,587 to 1,582.

But Foster plays at 1 p.m. and Smith at 4 p.m., so Smith will know how many yards he needs to become the first player to win consecutive rushing titles since Eric Dickerson did it in 1983 and 1984.

The return


A Monday-night finale between the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions doesn't appear to be anything special. Except that Joe Montana will play a half for his first regular-season action in two years.

Montana should be worth a couple of ratings points as the fans get their chance to see how well he can play after a two-year layoff.

Regardless of how well he does, it still appears to be Steve Young's team. His teammates voted him the Len Eshmont award, given to the most inspirational player on the team.

In effect, Montana is showcasing himself around the league. He doesn't want to be a backup and with a salary cap, the 49ers can't afford his $3 million salary.