Coaching hotbed

Who knew that the Redskins of the late 1990s were such a fertile ground for head coaches. Or, at least, head coaching candidates?

But Mike Nolan got the 49ers job and Russ Grimm is reportedly among the final three for Cleveland's coaching vacancy. And that's with Norv Turner already coaching in Oakland. Thing is, I'm not sure in any of the cases whether these coaches will be successful.

Having covered Nolan, however, I will say this: I like the guy. I liked that he was available, win or lose, on Sundays and Mondays. No other defensive coordinator since him has been so available. Gregg Williams always seemed to be more available after a strong performance -- like against Minnesota -- than he was after a late drive led to a loss.

But Nolan answered every question and did so with class. He also never acted like he was smarter than everyone or that what he was doing was so much more important than someone else's job. That's why he didn't hang any pictures on his walls at home or display any mementos. He didn't want his kids thinking he was something special -- he wanted them to think he was just a father with a job, like everyone else.

Nolan is organized and disciplined, two qualities a head coach needs. I remember talking to him early in his tenure in Washington and thinking, 'This guy will be a head coach one day.' He just had that look. But I still don't know if he'll be a good one; he's in a terrible organization and that certainly will hurt him. I also know that some in the Redskins' organization, whom I trusted considerably, did not like Nolan because of how he treated the players.

And owner Dan Snyder had to be talked out of firing him a couple times during the 1999 season. Knowing Snyder's track record, that's not a stamp of disapproval.

Nolan has that little-guy feistiness. When his dad coached, he'd occasionally get in fights in the stands with fans who were shouting obscenities at his father. And he'd try to win any bet -- once, and this is disgusting, but he and a friend had a bet as to who could go the longest without changing their underwear. Nolan won.

Again, whether or not those traits make him a good head coach, who knows. But those are what helped put him in this situation.

As for Grimm, it's hard to get past his role with the Hogs as a fun-loving, beer-guzzling lineman. But Grimm was so much more than that. You don't become a coach by staying that way. You become a coach, and you rise through the ranks, by working hard and impressing others. He was in charge of Washington's running game his last few years and did an excellent job. Notice how well the Steelers' line has played under him -- and how well the running game has flourished?

Those who played alongside Grimm aren't surprised he's inching closer to a head coaching job. Grimm paid attention to the men he learned from -- Joe Bugel, Joe Gibbs, Jim Hanifan. And those who played for him, especially Jon Jansen, loved the experience and missed him dearly after he left. Grimm had the unique combination of being able to work his charges hard, yet make playing for him enjoyable.

He used to get mad at trainer Bubba Tyer whenever he stole his new shipment of chewing tobacco and hid them. He got even by locking Tyer out of his trainer's room. But Tyer got even another way: he burned Grimm's clothes.

During practice one day after Grimm had played a prank on him, Tyer took Grimm's clothes and ballcap and, as the players worked out, he put them in a pile near the field. He looked over at Grimm and waved, then doused the pile with lighter fluid and lit a match. That's when Grimm realized what was happening.

The scene was caught on tape and Turner later played it for the entire team while harping on the theme of getting even.

Maybe the thought of Grimm as a head coach is still funny to imagine. But not to those who have worked with him. To them, it's hard to imagine otherwise.


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