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COACHES CORNERED

When they're not preaching the Word of God or playing General MacArthur, football coaches are usually stewing in their juices. Is it seemly for grown men to worry quite so much about the efficacy of the all-out blitz or the state of mind in the Atlanta Falcons locker room? Probably not, but that may be a question for philosophers. To paraphrase Eugene McCarthy: Football guys must be smart enough to understand a complicated game but dumb enough to think it really matters.

In any event, college and NFL coaches are paid handsomely for their blood, sweat and tears, and they are the ones who always take the heat when things go wrong. In the upcoming football season, you can look for just as many things to go wrong as right.

Herewith, selected predictions about the fates of men at the helm in 1994:
Archbishop McCartney discovers God is dead.
Let's dispense with the undergraduate debate by noting that preseason pundits are ranking Colorado's Golden Buffaloes as high as sixth or seventh in the nation. Fine. Great. Praise the Lord.

Too bad that won't be good enough to win the Big 8.
The Buffs' lumbering old nemesis, Nebraska, is loaded again this fall, and there's no reason to believe they won't do some more grave bodily damage to Colorado in Lincoln on October 29. How many Cornhuskers does it take to screw in a light bulb, or to beat Wyoming Saturday? About 3.5. How many will it take to drive Reverend Bill straight back to his Promise Keepers convention? Twenty-two of 'em--dressed to a man in devil's red. There will be no Orange Bowl for your Buffs again this year. But maybe that's the real blessing: At least McCartney won't get the chance to punt to Rocket Ismail again.

Danny Boy goes ballistic near Secaucus.
As anyone who's ever endured a "losing" press conference with him knows, the New York Giants' Dan Reeves gives a whole new meaning to the term "head" coach. He proved himself one thin-skinned Georgian even when John Elway and the Denver media shot occasional spitballs at him here in the well-mannered Rockies, but he has not yet felt the wrath of the New York area press corps in full lather. That's because last season's Giants were one of the league's happy surprises--an overachieving group that put together an 11-5 season, got to the playoffs and snagged Coach of the Year honors for Reeves in his first year at the Meadowlands.

Now the honeymoon's over. Ravaged by retirements (quarterback Phil Simms and soul-of-the-team Lawrence Taylor) and free-agent defections, the Giants look to be a sorry bunch. They have two wet-behind-the-ears quarterbacks (Dave Brown and Kent Graham); three key starters in the secondary have departed; and three offensive linemen are also gone.

New York fans are notably unforgiving, and the New York media can smell blood like no one else. By the time the Jints are, say, 2-5 this year, both groups will be on Reeves like sweat, and that telltale vein bulging in his neck is liable to explode.

To be sure, he'll blow but good the first time he gets Handley-ized in the Big Apple. Look for the Giants to have a new head coach in 1995.

Wade dons hip boots.
A few weeks ago in this space, we predicted great things for this year's Broncos, based largely on the off-season acquisition of that blue-chip receiving corps. With the rejuvenated Biffster flinging bombs to Mike Pritchard, Anthony Miller and Shannon Sharp, we reasoned, who would be able to stop the boys in orange and blue?

No one at all.
But Denver's secondary (and that's flattering it) has been torched in the preseason. Going into last Thursday's game against the Cardinals, the Donks had given 350 yards and 24 points per in four exhibition contests, the ominous trend having started on the first play from scrimmage of the first game, when Jeff Hostetler connected on a 75-yard bomb for the despised Raiders. Last week the Dallas Cowboys (not a bad club) racked up 440 yards and 34 points against the Broncs, who have responded to their defensive woes by hiring another expensive running back, Leonard Russell.

One anonymous Raider was authentically baffled. "They can outscore 22 teams in the league," he said of Denver. "But so what?"

Look for a lot of 35-33 and 44-41 Bronco games this season. But if Phillips and company come up on the short end of the high tally too often, look for him to float on out of here on a futile sea of points.

Anarchy reigns in Switzerland.
The kind of reform school Barry Switzer used to run at Oklahoma ("a university the football team can be proud of") probably won't cut it in Big D. Even before the season gets under way, there are subtle signs of trouble in the club that has won two straight Super Bowls. A couple of star Cowboys (no names now) have challenged their new, collegiate-minded head coach right there on the sideline, and Barry's superficially good-natured jousting with hardass team owner Jerry Jones has an undercurrent of danger about it. These two aren't about to select pistols at dawn just yet, but who do you think is the better shot? Ask Jimmy Johnson. He was Jones's college roommate, for God's sake, he won the thing twice and he got kicked out of town.

The new storm clouds, combined with a lack of incentive on the part of guys who've already been twice to the mountaintop, are not likely to produce a collapse in Dallas--Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and a dozen other 'Boys are way too proud and talented for that. But Barry's gonna get a rude awakening when the San Francisco 49ers start rumbling through his nightmares this season. Just back the paddy wagon up to the clubhouse door and pile him in.

Big Art wins the Shell Game.
Unbelievably, it's been ten seasons since the Los Angeles Raiders have played in a Super Bowl. But whether Denver's dyed-in-the-wool Donkeymaniacs like it or not, the Silver and Black have their best chance in years. They're even calling themselves "The Team of the Decades" these days. One thing's sure--they've got the steam of the decades. How would you like to cover a speed-burner like Tim Brown, James Jett, Rocket Ismail or Alexander Wright? How about all four of them? Hostetler has the fastest set of receivers in NFL history, and he can get the ball to them. The other key is the acquisition of huge offensive guard Kevin Gogan from the Cowboys, an armored car likely to give Raider quarterbacks the extra half-second to find receivers breaking open downfield--way downfield.

The Don is not quite dead in Miami, and the resurgent Dolphins have at least two enormous incentives to get back to the big game this January: They'd like to do it for aging Dan Marino, the deserving pure passer who lost the whole season to a ripped Achilles in 1993, and they'd love to be the first team to play a Super Bowl in its own stadium. The game is scheduled for Joe Robbie. Buffalo? No. Not this time. Not again. We hope. We pray.

Hate to say it, but the Raiders may have a little more in the tank than Buffalo, or K.C., or your porous Broncos.

In the end, in fact, Big Art Shell and the pride-and-poise guys may even be able to pull off the upset and wear the Ring. Does it really hurt to say it? Nah...not really...Why be dumb enough to think it really matters?

Raiders 27, 49ers 21.


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