- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

Every once in a while, NFL owners go how can I put this delicately? temporarily insane. Back in the '60s and early '70s, for instance, a bunch of them decided it was a good idea to give their coaches 10-year (or longer) contracts. The Cowboys signed Tom Landry to a 10-year extension. The Giants signed Allie Sherman for 10 years. The Broncos signed Lou Saban for 10 years. The Chiefs signed Hank Stram for 10 years.
Not to be outdone, the Eagles signed Joe Kuharich to a 15-year deal as coach-GM. "This must be the way Sutter felt when he found all that gold in 1849," Kuharich said when the agreement was announced. He was fired four years later, after the club was sold but continued to collect his salary for 11 years.
That was nothing, though, compared to the 10-year contract (with a five-year option), Bill Peterson got from the Oilers. Peterson wound up winning one game and losing 18 before he was mercifully relieved of his duties. Not exactly money well spent.
Anyway, the owners are at it again. Only this time, they're not giving coaches 10-year deals, they're trading fistfuls of draft picks for them. The Bucs broke the all-time record Monday when they handed over two No. 1s and two No. 2s plus $8 million to the Raiders to procure the services of Jon Gruden. Just to show you how crazy it's gotten, the Dolphins gave the Colts a single first-rounder (used to draft the legendary Don McCauley) for Don Shula in 1970. And Shula had already been to one Super Bowl, two NFL title games and had posted a 73-26-4 record. All by the age of 40.
Gruden, according to my records, is 40-28 as a head coach, has won a grand total of two playoff games and will turn 39 in August. And for this priceless commodity, Tampa Bay mortgaged its next two drafts. Talk about a panic move.
After all, Gruden, had just one year left on his contract with Oakland at which point he would have been free to go anywhere. But the Glazers were so desperate to hire a coach, after being turned down by everybody but Knute Rockne, that they essentially handed Al Davis a blank check.
If Gruden's coaching career compares with anybody's at this point, it's Don Coryell's. And when Coryell moved from the Cardinals (to whom he was still under contract) to the Chargers in '78, the compensation was a mere third-round pick. That's the kind of inflation we're seeing in the price of coaches. There's such a shortage of them, it seems of the good ones, that is that teams will pay practically anything for them.
In the last five years, we've had the Jets cough up first-, second-, third- and fourth-rounders for Bill Parcells. We've had the Patriots fork over a No. 1 for Bill Belichick. We've had the Seahawks part with a No. 2 for Mike Holmgren. We've had the Chiefs give up second- and third-rounders for Dick Vermeil. And we've had the Redskins trade two No. 3s for Marty Schottenheimer. It's amazing, really, that the Eagles didn't demand compensation when Vermeil came out of his 14-year retirement to coach the Rams in '97. They're probably kicking themselves right now.
Not that any of this is new. Heck, in 1951, the Redskins tried to hire Hunk Anderson as their head coach, but since Hunk was on a leave of absence from the Bears, George Halas wanted something in return. Washington owner George Preston Marshall offered a second-round pick; Halas preferred Paul Lipscomb, the Redskins' Pro Bowl defensive tackle. Alas, the trading deadline had passed, so the two teams weren't able to work out a deal. (Marshall wound up giving the job to assistant coach Dick Todd.)
But two No. 1s and two No. 2s for a head coach? That is new. Perhaps it has something to do with the Patriots, under Belichick, winning the Super Bowl this year or with the Jets, under Parcells, making it to the AFC Championship game in Tuna's second season. The trades for those two look pretty smart now, especially since none of the draft picks involved has turned into Joe Montana.
Then, too, this is the era of free agency, which makes it easier though not necessarily more advisable to give away draft choices. If you haven't got a No. 2 to fill your hole at linebacker, you simply sign a free agent.
Clubs can also make the argument that, hey, if Ricky Williams is worth the Saints' entire draft as well as a No. 1 pick the next year then why can't Jon Gruden be worth two No. 1s and two No. 2s?
There's only one problem with this argument: Ricky Williams isn't worth the Saints' entire draft as well as a No. 1 pick next year. But who's counting?



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