It’s taken me the entire NFL season, but I’ve finally figured out Darryl Rogers. Sort of.
Remember when he arrived last spring, fresh from the college ranks, a seemingly laid-back, unassuming, you-respect-me- I’ll-respect-you kind of guy?
Yeah. Well. I never trust that type. There has to be more. A fire in the belly. A skeleton in the closet. A Jack Daniel’s in the desk. Something.
So I hung around him whenever I could. Had long talks in his office. Got close after victories, and closer after losses. Looking for that giveaway clue. Come on, Darryl. You beat your dog, right?
Well, we’re now one game from the end of the season. Time to report back. So I will.
Darryl Rogers is a laid-back, unassuming, you-respect-me- I’ll-respect-you kind of guy.
But wait. Let me tell you how I came to this conclusion.Better yet. Roll the tape. We’ll do this like “Citizen Kane.” The best way to find out about someone, after all, is to collect stories from those who know him.
Here are a few from the Lions players: He admits his shortcomings
We start in the pre-season. A team meeting. Rogers stood up and made a point of telling the players that he was new in this league, and that he might not have all the answers this year. In pro football, this is sort of like an airline pilot saying, “Folks, I’m, uh, not sure what this red button does, but let’s try it, shall we?”
That’s Rogers. “We gained a lot of respect for him from that,” said James Jones. “He’s honest.”
Cut to . . . a hotel lobby, where a young player (no longer with the team) was to meet his date. The team arrived late, almost at curfew. Rogers and the player walked in. The woman was there.
The three of them stood around for a while. The player was obviously nervous. He looked at his watch and said, “Well, I guess it’s about curfew.”
Rogers nodded. He headed toward the elevator. Joe Ferguson was standing there. Rogers glanced back at the player, leaned over to Ferguson and said,
“What do you think he’ll do?”
Rogers laughed. “Well, I guess if I were a player, I know what I’d do, too.”
Cut to . . . a press conference. Rogers is asked when he decided not to enforce a dress code. He says when he realized the players’ designer jeans cost twice as much as his Haggar double-knits.
Cut to . . . the regular season. When Rogers came to the Lions, he chose to learn their way of numbering plays, rather than make the players learn his. During the first Tampa Bay game, the Lions were driving in the final seconds of the first half. No time-outs left. Quarterback Eric Hipple looked for the sideline signal. Rogers jumped up, raised one finger, and yelled “Slant! Slant!”
Hipple blinked. One finger is for a post, the wrong play in that situation. But there was Rogers yelling “Slant!” and holding up one finger.
Hipple called a slant and the Lions scored. As they ran off, Rogers grabbed him and said, “Thank goodness you knew what I meant. I forgot. To me one finger has always been a slant. Sorry.”
Cut to . . . Sunday’s game against Green Bay. Make-or-break for the Lions’ playoff hopes. Ferguson came in for Hipple and threw a crippling interception. Rogers met him at the sideline.
“You had a receiver open,” Rogers said, “you know that, right?” Ferguson nodded.
“And you know you underthrew him?”
Ferguson nodded again.
That was it. No more discussion. No need. Treat the men like men
That last story is vintage Rogers. He is not a screamer. He throws no tantrums. I think he said the word “darn!” once, but I can’t swear to it.
Rogers is sort of a cross between Tom Landry and Father Mulcahy from
“MASH.” With a little Kermit the Frog thrown in.
But he treats men like men. Straight-up. No mind games. Respect. Those are the words you hear when you quietly ask the Lions about Rogers. “He may be telling you you won’t be on the team next year,” Hipple said, “but he’ll use the same tone of voice as if you just made a good play.”
All things considered, Rogers has done a pretty admirable job so far. Yes, there’s a long way to go. The Lions’ road performance is ridiculous, and it’s a coach’s job to fix it. And losing to Tampa Bay and Indianapolis is inexcusable. Good teams should beat bad teams. Coach’s job again.
But he’s accomplished an important first. He’s got the players’ respect, a prerequisite for demanding their talent; 1986 should be better.
And you can take that from me, a guy who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Darryl Rogers. Sort of.