By Jim Gehman, Engagement Insider
Detroit’s first-round draft choice in 1968, you had five head coaches during the 11 seasons you were the quarterback for the Lions. How would you describe that experience?
“That was very frustrating because with every coach there’s a different system. The coaches that came in had different players that they particularly liked or didn’t like and so it was all unsettled. By having a different coach about every other year you just never got beyond the point of just going through the motions of learning their system.
“The first year, they put in their system, and usually in the second and third year they kind of find out what they’ve got. What your strengths are and what the different strengths are on the team. And they can adjust their offense to the particular players that they have. But when they’re only there for one and a half or two years it’s very difficult to do that.”
Fifteen seasons in the NFL with Detroit, Baltimore and Chicago, along with two seasons in the USFL, how were you able to play so long?
“I don’t know. [Laughs] A lot of it is just luck when getting hit. The early part of my career in Detroit, I had some really good players. And then when I went to Baltimore there were some good players there. And I played one game with the Bears in 1984 right when they had that great defense. You hand the ball to Walter Payton. A lot of good things happen when you’re a quarterback and you do that. So I think certain periods of my career, I had some really good players that probably kept me from getting hurt.”
Following your playing days, you were an assistant coach with Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and at the University of Illinois. Do you feel the players appreciated that you had been there and done that?
“I think they did. I think the people that realty appreciated it more than anything was at Illinois. My second year, I was able to adjust my system to the type of players that we had. We had a very successful season (and won the Liberty Bowl). It just didn’t work out for me to come back the third year, but I was really looking forward to it and I think most of the players were too.
“When I was with the Bears [1986-92], a lot of it was we were playing off the defense because the defense was so good. And you had Walter Payton that you could control the football with. It was really enjoyable coaching with the Bears for those seven years. We had some really good coaches and good players. If you don’t have good players, you can practice until the cows come home, you can look at film for 24 hours and you’re still not going to do anything. You need players to win.”
What was more enjoyable – playing or coaching?
“Both. When I played in the United States Football League, I was learning from George Allen. I wanted to go into coaching, so I went into that league primarily because he was coaching and I could watch and see what he did.
“I told him I was going into coaching, so he would talk to me during the game about why we’re calling plays, at what time we’re calling plays and why. We had a lot of ex-NFL players, so it was enjoyable to be there with them.”
A senior account executive at Atlantic Precision Products in Detroit since 2008, what type of company is it?
“They’re primarily a plastic injection mold company. If you open up your hood or look around the interior of your car, a lot of the plastic there, that’s plastic parts that we make.
“I’m an independent rep and represent them to a lot of the tier one companies in the Detroit area. [Tier one companies supply essential components to automobile manufacturers.] The OEM [Original Equipment Manufacturers] is the name for like the Fords, Chryslers, GM’s and Toyotas. The tier one companies work directly with them. And then the tier two companies, they go and try to get work from the tier one companies. That’s kind of how the tiers are in Detroit.”
Has being a former Lion, especially working in Detroit, helped you in the business?
“It certainly has. I think primarily because I kept my nose pretty clean and I was a good player that worked hard. I think the people in Detroit respect players that do that. In our day, we didn’t make that much money so a lot of times you had to get a job in the offseason. I worked at different jobs in advertising and as an associate in that business with the reps, and then I was a rep for a couple companies.
“Usually most of the players, when they retired, they stayed right in Detroit and worked in the community. You did a lot of the Little League or Pop Warner football banquets as a favor for some who said, ‘If you stay and want to get into some type of businesses in Detroit, we’ll help you.’
“I think that Detroit is a great community for that. If you have players that retire, that played well or just played hard, they would be respected in Detroit. It’s the kind of a city.”