- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | The mustache is graying. The twinkle in his eye is maybe not quite as impish.

But those obvious signs of aging don’t bother the Head Hog, who is less than four months from his 50th birthday.

Having interviewed for but failing to land five head coaching jobs in the past five years and having failed to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being a finalist the past four years, Russ Grimm is at peace with his place in the NFL.

“People die of heart attacks because of too much stress,” the Arizona Cardinals‘ assistant head coach said Thursday. “I’m not worried about anything that happened yesterday. I can see myself coaching another 10 years and then sitting back and watching on a flat screen underneath some palm trees with some sand beneath my toes and a nice cold one.”

Now that sounds like the old Russ Grimm, the unofficial chairman of the 5 O’Clock Club, the bachelor offensive linemen who would pound beers in an equipment shed after practice during the Washington Redskins‘ glory days of the early 1980s.

“One time in [training camp in] Carlisle after an afternoon practice, the linemen went to a watering hole for a few refreshments,” then Redskins coach Joe Gibbs recalled, laughing. “They didn’t show up for dinner and meetings because they had decided to boycott. I knew Russ was the leader, but they had all had too many. I told Russ the next morning that they had better have a great practice and we had better win the next preseason game, or I would take every nickel he had. It was the best practice we ever had.”

The Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1982, the second season for left guard Grimm, left tackle Joe Jacoby and right guard Mark May. Center Jeff Bostic was a year older but in his second year as a starter, too. Only right tackle George Starke was a veteran.

“I played the game because it was fun,” said Grimm, whose 1982 salary was $60,000. “There’s no real stats for offensive linemen. We won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, three different running backs… but pretty much the same guys up front. So there’s some [Hall of Fame] merit there. I’d love to see us go in as a group.”

That won’t happen, but Grimm isn’t going to lose sleep about Saturday’s election of the Class of 2009. Three years ago, rather than worry about his chances, Grimm was focused on helping the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Last year, he knew Darrell Green and Art Monk would be elected and that three Redskins wouldn’t go in at once, so he would have to keep waiting.

As for this year, Grimm said: “Some day it will happen.”

The four-time All-Pro has at least the start of a strong resume. He helped lead the Redskins to four Super Bowls, which included wins in Super Bowls XVII, XXII and XXVI. Grimm was an All-Pro and/or Pro Bowl selection in each season from 1983 to 1986, and he was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1980s.

But Grimm’s candidacy is hampered because injuries limited him to nine starts or fewer in five of his 11 seasons.

“Russ was as dominant an offensive lineman as there was,” said Green Bay Packers general manager Mark Murphy, a starting safety on Washington’s 1982 and 1983 Super Bowl teams. “We had a really strong offensive line, but Russ was the leader. We would get a lead and our offensive line would just wear out the other team’s defense.”

That’s not how Grimm’s current team plays. The Cardinals prefer to navigate via the air, with two-time MVP Kurt Warner throwing to Pro Bowl receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

But Grimm, who preferred the aggressiveness of run-blocking to the more passive nature of pass protection, still has helped developed the formerly woebegone Cardinals line into a bulwark of the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense. Grimm essentially started from scratch when he arrived in 2007. Three of the current starters hadn’t played a game for the Cardinals at that point, and another was entering just his second season.

“Not only did Russ play the game, he knows how to teach it,” guard Reggie Wells said. “Russ has done a tremendous job with our younger guys and our older guys who hadn’t had the kind of success he had during his career.”

Grimm has had plenty of success as an assistant coach, too, helping the Redskins (1992), Steelers (2001, 2002, 2005) and the Cardinals reach the postseason. But that hasn’t translated into a head coaching job. He has interviewed for vacancies with Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh and most recently the New York Jets - to no avail.

The misses haven’t snuffed out his desire to be the man in charge, but he only will take the right job.

“I always tell ‘em ahead of time, ‘I’m interviewing you in the process,’” Grimm said. “I’m not just going to jump on the first train that comes by. I know there’s only 32 jobs, but I’m going to make sure that it’s a job where I feel I have a good chance to be successful, a job where I feel comfortable at, a job where I’m able to bring in coaches who’ll coach the way I want.”

Grimm left Pittsburgh two years ago after Bill Cowher resigned and Grimm didn’t get the call to replace him. The job went to Mike Tomlin, then the defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.

Grimm’s loss was Ken Whisenhunt’s gain. A fellow staffer with the Steelers, Whisenhunt had been named coach in Arizona and immediately hired his old pal as his No. 2 man. Grimm and Whisenhunt spent two years together in Washington (1989 and 1990).

“Russ was always the guy in the huddle that knew what was going on,” said Whisenhunt, who played tight end. “He had the ability to analyze the defense and understand what they were trying to get accomplished. That has served him well as a coach. His mindset, the way he approaches the game, how professional he is and his desire to win is what makes him a special person and so valuable to our team.”

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