Los Angeles — It is the considered opinion of Ray Malavasi, head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, that most sports writers come to work on stone wheels, and write the same way.
Unhappy with what he reads about pro football strategy, coaches, teams, and games in the papers, Malavasi held a Media Orientation Day last week at Rams headquarters. He seems to think that most of us are like gossip columnists, who live off the chat of the land.
About 45 members of the media showed up, including a number of voices and faces familiar to radio and television audiences in the Los Angeles area, if not the entire country. Most had the attention span of third-graders.
Those who paid attention heard Professor Malavasi and his staff (one of his ancestors, if you go back far enough, invented the wireless) lectures on such diverse subjects as zone defenses and flak jackets. The latter, in case you didn't know, protect some National Football League quarterbacks from serious injury when their linemen don't.
Although lacking the depth of Albert Einstein, the rich crunchy goodness of Lowell Thomas, and the persuasiveness of used-car salesman Cal Worthington and his dog Spot, Ray seemed to have a pretty good grip on his audience until the group broke for lunch.
As the free groceries disappeared, so did many of the freeloaders, taking their notebooks and pencil boxes with them. Obviously, more pressing matters awaited them at the office, or whenever it is that sports writers go in the afternoon.
Malavasi is a pleasant man, who undoubtedly would be cast as someone's visiting uncle in a situation comedy. He is not the first sports personality Howard Cosell rushes to interview when he comes to Los Angeles. One of Ray's most frequently used lines is also one of my favorites.
It goes like this: "I never second-guess myself."
Nevertheless, Mr. Malavasi is well respected by members of his profession and considered an expert at camouflaging defenses that even Gen. George S. Patton might have had trouble reading. Ray studied engineering at West Point, where he was also a starting lineman under Red Blaik and Vince Lombardi. He knows what it's like to be in the trenches and how little praise comes with the job.
This will be Ray's fourth year as the Ram's head coach. His credentials include a 32-14 won-lost record during the regular season, two division championships, and a 1980 Super Bowl appearance against the Pittsburgh Steelers that ended in a 31-19 LA defeat.
For those deep into trivia, Malavasi revealed that the Rams have code names for all their positions. For example, the weak safety is Jill, the strong safety Sam, the left cornerback Lou, and the right cornerback rose. And the guy who drives the team bus is called Bussie.
A year ago in Rams Report, an official team publication, there was a question- and-answer session with Malavasi. An excerpt follows:
Could you explain your philosophy that players win games and coaches lose games?
If you put them (players) in the right situation -- put them in the right formations or the right defenses -- then it's up to the players to execute. They're the ones that do it. They win it for you. What can happen is that coaches put their players in bad situations or wrong formations. They do dumb things that get a team beat. That's why I've always said that most of the time, if you analyze it, coaches get a team beat.
Are you a strict coach or an easygoing coach?
I think I try to go to the middle of the line. I only demand things when I think it's necessary. I've had no problems with this ball club, because they all want to play.
You are one of the few head caoches in the NFL who allows the quarterback to call his own plays. Why is that?
We don't 100 percent. We have called quite a few. It's partly true, because I think the quarterback gets a feel of the game that we, the coaches, don't have on the sideline. However, anytime I see the quarterback having a problem, I have no objection to sending plays in.
How much improvement Malavasi's School for Out-of-Touch Reporters will generate among pro football writers this season is bound to spark new interest among those who read newspapers.
But in case Ray isn't sure, most critics are all the same -- people who always know the way but can't drive a car. I also know a sports writer who got into Disneyland free. They thought he was Dopey!