By Alan Grant
Special to Page 2

Archie Cooley had his reasons. As such, he wasn't messin' around. The coach of the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils put five, sometimes six receivers on the field at once. The result resembled flocks of birds flying in tight formations, rendering defenders helpless. The lead receiver was an incredible talent named Rice, and the quarterback a heady cat named Totten. Their act was dubbed the "Satellite Express."

In the Southwestern Athletic Conference, or SWAC, known affectionately by the members of its collective as "Some Wild Assed Children," anything went. So Cooley put 'em out there and let 'em run, throw and catch. And score. In 1984 the Delta Devils scored 628 points -- that's more than 59 per game, if you're counting.

Cooley eventually left Mississippi Valley State for Arkansas Pine-Bluff, then Texas Southern. And he took his show with him. But that was as far as it went. While getting to know Jerry Rice, the 49ers asked Cooley about his system. But to my knowledge they never offered him a job. Cooley's show would never fly on Sundays. Aside from his unconventional scheme, Cooley's legend was framed by a cowboy hat and the nickname "Gunslinger." Nah, no room for anyone in the staid Sunday league with such accoutrements.

Well, maybe one. Namely Jerry Glanville, who had a somewhat tamer version of the offense with a brand name -- the run-and-shoot. Yeah, I know he never won anything, but the guy who dressed in black and left tickets for Elvis was hired to coach not one but two NFL teams. Nothing against ol' Jerry. I'm just stating the facts.

Shifts in the political left or right are wonderful fodder for gatherings 'round the water cooler, especially at election time. But the political climate for any non-white seeker of public office never really changes. It always calls for a conservative presentation. Clean-cut, well-spoken, not too colorful, never ever threatening in any way, shape or form. Understated. Civilized. Status quo. That's how most black NFL or college coaches rise through the ranks. That's how most black NFL or college coaches get their jobs.

Karl Dorrell
Kirby Lee/
Karl Dorrell's been under fire for how he handled the Notre Dame game.

But once in office, then what? The stakes are raised. For any coach, black or white, the firing is more inevitable than the hiring. But nearly a fourth of NFL coaches are black -- an all-time high. So what's a man to do? This past week there was evidence that the black coach's conservative doctrine was bleeding into the game plan. It seems that by trying to keep his job, in some instances the black coach may be losing it.

Take Karl Dorrell, for instance. I guess he had his reasons. His UCLA defensive players are as swift and precise as any in the land. So with two minutes left and a 17-13 lead, Dorrell trusted his defense to win it. He ran the ball three times, the last time for negative yardage. Then he punted. You know what happened next. Notre Dame scored a touchdown, UCLA lost and conservatism took it on the chin.

Seventy-two hours after the UCLA debacle, Maurice Carthon vacated his post as the Cleveland Browns' offensive coordinator. Actually, some might argue that he had done so long before Tuesday. The Browns' offense is dead last in the league, averaging a miserable 68 yards per game on the ground. And the passing game, which features talented wideout Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow, has managed less than 200 yards per game in the air.

In fact, Winslow openly questioned the coaching staff's fortitude. And rightly so. In the end, Carthon failed because he wasn't willing to take chances with the Browns' offensive weapons.

Dennis Green had his reasons.

I remember this one practice at Stanford. It was the fourth day of two-a-day sessions and we were going through the motions.

Dennis Green
Kirby Lee/
Green's outburst after the loss to the Bears won't be forgotten anytime soon.

"Start it all over!" Green yelled. "Start from the beginning!"

As the managers moved the cones back to their original spots and reset the practice period to 1, Green screamed at us. "No one's going to feel sorry for you!"

It was a sage lesson. Few people have empathy for an athlete, or even an ex-athlete. Once you've played the game, or coached it, or been around it, you're perceived -- at least by some -- as forever blessed. So when tough times come, and they inevitably will, don't expect anyone to relate to you as a human.

In keeping with the theme, I don't have any pity for Green. The man who penned the book "No Room for Crybabies" doesn't want my pity or yours.

I thought of that two Monday nights ago. Green's offense, sparked by a wonderfully tough rookie quarterback, had been sticking it to the best defense in football and was poised to pull off an upset of truly grand proportions. But on the final drive, down by a point, some questionable things took place. Matt Leinart had been completing passes with ease. But with 1:04 left, all the passing stopped. On second-and-3, Edgerrin James got two yards. On third-and-1, Edge was stopped for a loss of one. You know what happened next. Neil Rackers missed a field goal, the Bears knelt on it and Denny went ballistic.

But amidst that ugly outcome, another intriguing plot was unfolding. Green's counterpart that night was an understated defensive whiz named Lovie Smith. In just three years Smith has constructed a bona fide contender. And the Bears' defense, a rough-and-tumble gang led by a character named Urlacher, unabashedly takes center stage. The Bears are a team cast in the mold of the Ravens, Bucs and Patriots -- recent Super Bowl champs with minimal offensive flair.

Lovie Smith
Mike Moore/
Lovie decided to focus his resources on defense, and it has worked.

This Lovie is a shrewd one. Last spring, at draft time, he could have upgraded his offense, which could be called somewhat pedestrian. Instead, he went against the grain and used four of his seven picks on defensive players. Lovie's unconventional actions in the Windy City, if successful, could render all of this conservative musing a moot point.

And if he isn't successful?

That's when I could say that all black coaches suck. I could say that they just aren't as good, smart or prepared as white coaches. I could say that no other black coach should ever get hired. I could say all of that -- but I don't think it's true. And besides, I would be insulting your intelligence.

But the fact is, these losses -- in South Bend, in Arizona, in Cleveland -- are painful to watch. No, not just painful for fans of those teams, or fans of those coaches, or even fans of black coaches -- if such people exist. It's just painful to watch unscripted disasters. At least it is for me.

The solution? I've been in and around this game for most of my life, so I know better than to tell you there's one play that will score every time or one defense that will stop anything and everything. But I will say this: Take a chance. Chances are you're gonna get fired anyway. Might as well play like you're behind. Play as if you're in danger of losing.

Really, it's not much of a stretch, is it?

Alan Grant is a regular contributor to and ESPN The Magazine. He is a former NFL defensive back who played college football at Stanford.