PHILADELPHIA — And then, the coach went ballistic.

“I’m ticked off!” croaked Bobby Ross after his football team’s latest exercise in humiliation. “I get all the damn criticism — people hammering me! I’m a good coach! I know what the heck’s supposed to be done! And I’m not going to second-guess myself one damn time!”

(Let’s pause here to wipe the spittle from the microphone. Also to remove all children from the room. OK …back to the tirade….)

“That was terrible what we did out there today! We shot ourselves in that last drive! We get two holding penalties, a motion penalty — you think I coach that stuff? I don’t coach that stuff! I work on that stuff! I spend time on that stuff! And I’m getting all the damn heat!”

(We should point out this explosion followed the Lions’ seventh loss in nine tries, a blown game to the lowly Philadelphia Eagles, a team so pathetic it had to call time out during the two-minute warning. No wonder Bobby’s upset.)

“Each and every one of you (media types) is hammerin’ my tail! I don’t coach that way! They got to step up and start making plays!

“I’m tired of taking it on myself! I really am! Because I work too hard!
…For us to play like that — particularly at the end — it’s embarrassing to me, and it ought to be embarrassing to them! They oughta be damn embarrassed!”

Pause. Swallow. Glare at reporters.

“Questions?”

No, Bobby. That pretty much takes care of it.

Just how low can the Lions go?

Now, with Sunday’s tongue-lashing, Ross has made the boldest and most dangerous move of his coaching days in Motown — as risky as dumping Scott Mitchell for Charlie Batch. Ross is absolutely right to rip into his mail-it-in group of players, with their penalties, drops, holds, missed tackles and lack of passion. He is absolutely right to say he doesn’t coach them to do the kind of things they did Sunday. Draw four penalties on their final drive? Give up a career-best 129 yards to Charlie (I’m Not James) Garner? Wait until the third quarter to convert a third down for the first time?

As Herman Moore would later say, “What kind of coach would teach his players to do that?”

But at the same time, Ross is rolling dangerous dice here. The speech he gave the media was calm in comparison with the tongue-lashing he gave his players. He took them apart. He chewed them up, spit them out, and squashed them with his toe. They deserved it. They swallowed it.

But that only works once.

If the Lions don’t get any better, Ross will have no more cards to play. He can yell until the veins burst through his forehead, it won’t matter. Either they respond now, or they’re never responding. And Ross risks becoming a football Col. Klink, an authoritative screamer whom everyone ignores.

And if that happens, he had better get a shield, some Valium, or a plane ticket out of town, because he has no idea what Detroit heat can be. Do the names Wayne Fontes and Darryl Rogers mean anything? They coached here. They lost. And Ross’ treatment by media and fans has been lovey-dovey compared to theirs.

Then again, what’s a coach to do? Every time the other team lowers the bar, the Lions crawl under it. They are the NFL’s answer to the Limbo. You couldn’t find a more pathetic team than the Eagles, who got thrashed by Dallas just six days earlier, 34-0. On the ride to the game, I heard three guys on the Philly pregame radio show predict the final score. One said 24-14. One said 24-12. One said 24-3.

They all picked Detroit.

And still the Lions lost. They lost without a fumble or an interception. They lost when, after a game’s worth of stalled efforts, putty defense, and sacks, their final drive went 40 yards forward and 29 yards backwards — penalties — then ended with a 58-yard field goal try by Jason Hanson that fell five yards short.

As Hanson missed, Ross dropped his head. His best player, the kicker, couldn’t do it. Oh, the horror.

Coach, it’s getting to be an epidemic

“I don’t blame Coach Ross,” said wide receiver Johnnie Morton. “If I were the coach, I wouldn’t know what to say either.”

“Did his yelling register?” said Mike Compton, the offensive lineman. “It registered with me. And if we don’t want to be 2-14, it better have registered with everyone else.”

We can only hope. The Lions are already playing for next year. And if Sunday is what 1999 looks like, I’m not going to any New Year’s Eve parties.

Still, it’s one thing to say you hear the criticism and another to have it change you. To me, the Lions are the kid who has been in trouble all year at school. He seems to know the teacher is going to yell at him anyhow, so what’s one more little incident?

The fact is, the Lions are more than halfway through the season and haven’t won a road game, haven’t won on Sunday, and haven’t won outdoors. That’s what we call a narrow field of victory.

Maybe their motto should be, “On any given Thursday night….”

Or maybe it should paraphrase Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Mistakes, they’ve made a few, but then again, too many to mention….

In either case, their coach is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.

“I’ve been coaching 35 years,” he yelled, “and I’ve done everything I can do here to make it right. I’m sick and tired of this! Sick and tired! Sick and tired!”

Get in line, Bobby.

To leave a message for Mitch Albom, call 1-313-223-4581.

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