- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

This sporting life, and life in general, has been kind to Marty Schottenheimer the last two decades.
He has put a lot into it, and gotten a lot out. As coach of the Cleveland Browns, the Kansas City Chiefs and now, at 57, the Washington Redskins, he has achieved success, respect and wealth. When he took a break from coaching the last two years and did a little television work for ESPN, he moved to North Carolina so he could be near his daughter, Kristin. He bought a boat and lived on a lake. His son, Brian, is following his career path as an NFL assistant.
Schottenheimer started off well, too. It wasn't that tough growing up in the blue-collar environs of McDonald, Pa., he said, even though his father, also named Martin, never earned more than five grand a year as a food salesman. There weren't a lot of extras, but that was enough back then. "My mother found more ways to make ground beef dishes than you can imagine," Schottenheimer recalled.
It was a close family and there was sports, especially football, which was huge there and still is. The three chief exports from Schottenheimer's part of the world are steel, coal and football people. Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio produced Joe Namath, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and countless other names you know. From McDonald, a town of 3,000, also came Marvin Lewis, defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.
Schottenheimer is part of the local lore. He was a top jock at Fort Cherry High School, a hard-hitting linebacker (as if there were any other kind from those parts) who reluctantly turned down a scholarship from Maryland because his dad wanted him closer to home. That worked out fine. Schottenheimer went to Pittsburgh and became an All-American. He met his future wife during spring break in Daytona Beach and graduated with an English degree. Then he played pro football. In his very first season, Schottenheimer's team, the Buffalo Bills, won the 1965 American Football League championship. He stuck around until 1971 as a career backup, three years with the Bills, two more with the Patriots.
"I like to tell people I played," Schottenheimer said, "but the truth is, I practiced." Still, he got to a place few ever reached, stayed a little while, watched and learned. He married Pat, the girl he met on the beach, and they had a couple of kids. Then as now, everything was OK.
The hard part came in between.
It was 1974 and Schottenheimer was an assistant coach with the Portland Storm of the World Football League, the low-grade, ill-fated NFL alternative. The league was wobbling, headed toward extinction a year later. Schottenheimer's paychecks were bouncing. Pat was working for an opthomologist Marty was working on his resumes. He had tried real estate after he retired, but it didn't take. He missed football and knew he wanted to coach, but no NFL jobs were available. He tried being a player-coach with the Storm, but athletically, he was finished. After the season, he had nothing to do but take care of the kids while Pat worked.
Schottenheimer was "Mr. Mom," although the term hadn't been invented yet. Whatever you called him, his family was in bad financial shape and Schottenheimer was teetering emotionally. He was close to being broke. "My mother-in-law, God rest her soul, had to send money so we could buy Christmas gifts," he said.
In January, Schottenheimer went down to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., to hunt for an NFL job. Lots of coaches on the way up and on the way down do this. But at least he had a connection a Miami Dolphins assistant named Mike "Mo" Scarry.
Nearly 10 years earlier, Schottenheimer had played for the College All-Stars in the annual exhibition game in Chicago against the NFL champs. Otto Graham was the coach; Dick Butkus and Roger Staubach were teammates. Scarry was an assistant, and he instantly took a liking to Schottenheimer. Part of that was because Scarry knew Schottenheimer's high school coach and one of his coaches at Pitt. The other part was what Scarry saw during the All-Stars' practices.
"He called the defenses very well," said Scarry, who retired as a coach in 1985 and now lives in Fort Myers, Fla. "He studied the game. And he worked like hell."
Scarry, in turn, was good friends with Bill Arnsparger. Both had served on Shula's staff when the Dolphins went 17-0 in 1972 (Scarry also was a Redskins assistant from 1966 to 1968). Now Arnsparger was coach of the New York Giants and, on Scarry's recommendation, agreed to meet with Schottenheimer. The two talked, and Arnsparger made an offer. He asked Schottenheimer to provide a detailed assessment of the top 100 WFL players, some of whom were of NFL caliber.
Schottenheimer was ecstatic. He had met Arnsparger and he was going to make some serious money, $1,500, or so he believed. "For a guy who was broke, that was pretty good," Schottenheimer said.
A few weeks after sending the list, Schottenheimer got an envelope with the Giants logo in the corner. He ripped it open. Inside was a letter from general manager Andy Robustelli and a check for $125.
Schottenheimer was stunned. Later he would discover that he heard wrong. Arnsparger told him he would pay "50 or 100 dollars," which came out sounding like "fifteen hundred dollars." But the important thing here is that Schottenheimer was in Arnsparger's office when he found out. He was now the Giants' linebackers coach. A few weeks after the check came (Schottenheimer said nothing about it), Arnsparger called. An assistant had suddenly resigned. Impressed with his meeting and the thoroughness of the report, reinforced by Scarry's emphatic, unqualified recommendation, Arnsparger hired Schottenheimer for the 1975 season.
"I felt that he'd be a good teacher," said Arnsparger, who worked as a Redskins defensive consultant last year.
A quarter-century later, Schottenheimer is still teaching.
Even though Schottenheimer didn't have the title, Arnsparger said he considered him his defensive coordinator.
"He was good on the field and good on game day," said Arnsparger, who had Schottenheimer's brother, Kurt, on his LSU staff in the mid-1980s. "He knew how to make adjustments that needed to be made."
John McVay, who succeeded Arnsparger in 1976, did make Schottenheimer his defensive coordinator. But things were coming unglued in New York, and Schottenheimer went to Detroit as linebackers coach in '78. Then Browns coach Sam Rutigliano, made Schottenheimer a defensive coordinator again in 1980.
In October 1984, with the Browns stuck at 1-7, owner Art Modell fired Rutigliano and hired the 41-year-old Schottenheimer as head coach. The Browns finished the year 4-4 and Schottenheimer kept the job for the next five seasons, compiling a 44-27 record, with successive playoff appearances from 1985 through 1988.
"I was a great believer in internal ascension, in promoting internally," said Modell, who moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1995 and renamed them the Ravens. "There's no science in this business. This business is based on instinct. My instinct told me the guy would make a heck of a defensive coordinator. And after I saw what he did with the linebackers and the defense, I felt this guy was headed for the big job."
With Schottenheimer holding the big job, the Browns lost in the playoffs, twice in a row to Denver in the conference championship. Both defeats were heartbreaking for the Browns and their fans, one known for "the Drive" orchestrated by quarterback John Elway, the other for a goal-line fumble by Earnest Byner, the dependable running back.
But according to those who played for Schottenheimer, this should not be his legacy.
"Here's what I think Marty does," former Browns quarterback Gary Danielson said. "Marty doesn't have rabbit ears. He hears some of the stuff going on in the locker room, but he doesn't react to everything. In Cleveland, we had a group with a lot of personalities, but he managed them and got the most out of them and got them to play hard."
Danielson, now a commentator for ABC, said Schottenheimer knew what to say and when to say it.
"We were tremendously prepared," he said. "He's a genius talking to his team and stating what the team needs to do to win the game. I listened to him giving 16 speeches a year, and none of them were ever the same. There's not a lot of emotion before the game. But after the game, he's very emotional. He'll cry."
Byner, now the Ravens' director of player development, said Schottenheimer "expects you to do the right thing, and he actually draws it out of his players. He's a guy who's gonna call you on the carpet if you need to be called on the carpet, but he also pats you on the back. He says we're gonna do what's expected of us, do it the right way. Or somebody else is gonna do it."
Schottenheimer calls Arnsparger his mentor and said one thing his former boss taught him was how to "find different ways to say the same thing."
The circumstances of Schottenheimer's departure from the Browns after the 1988 season are subject to interpretation, although it is clear there was a personal dispute with Modell. Schottenheimer said Modell wanted him to fire some assistant coaches.
"In all honesty, Art really didn't fire me," Schottenheimer said. "I said I didn't think it was appropriate to make changes in the coaching staff."
Modell has a different version. But he does acknowledge, "I think I made a mistake. I got some bad advice from some people I trusted. I felt he was trying to move into a power position, and I wanted to head it off. We had a meeting. He said, 'I want this, I want that.' I said I don't operate that way. But I think I could have reconciled with him. We should have gone out to dinner and talked about it."
Regardless of what really happened, the Chiefs were glad to hire Schottenheimer. The pattern repeated: A losing team was transformed into a winner but fell short in the playoffs. In 10 seasons under Schottenheimer, Kansas City was 101-56-1, winning three AFC West titles. But the Chiefs lost to Buffalo in the '93 AFC title game and lost their first-round playoff games, some narrowly, in 1994, 1995 and 1997.
In addition to his 5-11 playoff record, Schottenheimer has been criticized for being too conservative offensively, for not letting his players make big plays. But even his critics respect him, and most of his past players speak in terms not applied to many coaches. Former Chiefs nose tackle Bill Maas, who played for Schottenheimer in the Pro Bowl when Schottenheimer was coaching the Browns, said he recalls telling Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, "We've got to hire this guy."
Peterson already was attuned to such thinking, and when Schottenheimer joined the Chiefs, Maas wasn't disappointed.
"He had a plan," said Maas, an NFL commentator for Fox. "Every coach will tell you he has a plan, but he had everything down… He's good for the Washington Redskins because they're underachievers."
Another ex-Chiefs nose tackle, Dan Saleamua, almost jumped out of his chair when he heard the Redskins had hired Schottenheimer which isn't easy when you weigh, well, more than 300 pounds.
"They're gonna win," Saleamua said. "Marty is one of those guys that makes you play for him. He knows how to motivate a player. He treated you like an adult. The big thing about Marty was, he made you responsible for your actions. A lot of teams stay in hotels the night before home games, but we slept at home. He said if it's important enough for you to be in bed by 9 o'clock, you will be. If it's not important, you'll be out partying. And then you'll be gone."
The difference among coaches was hammered home after the Chiefs released Saleamua and he finished his career in Seattle, where the coach was Dennis Erickson.
"When Marty walks into a room, the meeting starts," Saleamua said. "Dennis Erickson would sit in the room waiting for the other players. I'm like, 'Oh my God, I don't believe he's doing that.' Marty is meticulous with details. Where most guys think it's not important, it's important to Marty."
Said Schottenheimer, who signed a four-year deal with the Redskins that could be worth much more than the base salary of $10 million because of incentives: "In a thumbnail, the reason we were successful was this: Our players bought into the idea that if you do the little things well, you'll have a better chance to succeed. If you put two evenly matched competitors together, the one who prevails is the one who does the fundamental and the technical things best."


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