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Rookie Dan Marino takes command of Dolphins; coaches of note

By Phil Elderkin / November 2, 1983



Pro football's best coaches adjust in difficult situations, which is what Miami's Don Shula did when his starting quarterback, David Woodley, played poorly in the Dolphins' first five games this season. At that point Shula decided to go with Dan Marino, a rookie quarterback from the University of Pittsburgh.

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Although Miami was beaten in overtime by the Buffalo Bills in his first start , the Dolphins have since won three straight to climb back into a first-place tie with Buffalo in the AFC East. Miami's victims have been the New York Jets, Baltimore Colts, and Los Angeles Rams. Against the Rams, Dan completed 25 of 38 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.

The amazing thing about Marino is how quickly the pro scouts lost interest in his potential after a sub-par year with Pittsburgh in 1982. The result was that five other quarterbacks (John Elway of Stanford, Todd Blackledge of Penn State, Jim Kelly of Miami, Tony Eason of Illinois, and Ken O'Brien of California-Davis) were all taken ahead of him in last spring's college draft.

Even though the Denver Broncos started the season with Elway at QB, John has since lost his job to Steve DeBerg. Meanwhile, Blackledge is a backup at Kansas City; Kelly signed with the rival USFL; Eason is sitting on the New England bench; and O'Brien is third-string with the Jets.

Marino, who grew up in one of Pittsburgh's working-class neighborhoods, is a street kid with street smarts. Miami claims that it had Dan rated higher than most of its NFL opponents did, and was particularly impressed by his ability to make quick decisions under fire. If Marino's completion average continues to hover around the 60 percent mark, there is a good chance that he will become the first rookie QB to win a conference passing title since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Landry, Knox deserve praise

So far this season, the Dallas Cowboys have been the best prepared organization on game days of any NFL team. Coach Tom Landry is so good at setting his defenses that most opponents spend a lot of time making adjustments in offenses they thought would work right from the start. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have invariably put points on the board.

If writers were voting for Coach of the Year in the NFC tomorrow, Landry probably would win easily. In the AFC, two of the early favorites would be Chuck Knox of the Seattle Seahawks and Kay Stephenson of the Buffalo Bills, who used to work for Knox.

Although Knox is often criticized for being too conservative, he gambled twice on offense last Sunday against the Los Angeles Raiders and got away with it both times. With the Seahawks leading 17-14 in the third quarter and facing a fourth-and-goal situation on L.A.'s one-yard line, Chuck ignored the almost sure field goal to send running back Curt Warner sweeping around the left side for a touchdown. Later, in the fourth quarter, after Seattle lined up for a 51-yard field goal attempt, Knox pulled a switch by having holder Jim Zorn throw a 33 -yard TD pass to fullback David Hughes.

The loss, the Raiders' second of 1983 to Seattle, dropped them into a first-place tie with Denver in the AFC West. Experience aids Oiler coach

From interim Houston Coach Chuck Studley, who previously worked under Paul Brown in Cincinnati and Bill Walsh in San Francisco: ''I'm not as high profile as Walsh or as quiet as Brown. What I learned most from Brown was to delegate responsibility. In other words, give your people the equipment and the tools to do the job and leave them alone. From Walsh, I learned the importance of motivation.

''I couldn't believe the team I was with in San Francisco two years ago ended up winning the Super Bowl. The 49ers weren't that good. But we played with gusto plus the attitude that we were going to win, and a great deal of that was due to Walsh's leadership.'' NFL tidbits

* The Baltimore Colts, who are finally getting the explosive running game they expected all along from Randy McMillan and Curtis Dickey, say they will go all out to sign Dickey, who is in the option year of his present contract.

The team they may have to beat off with a stick to keep Dickey is the USFL's new Houston franchise, which not only has money but is sure to remind Curtis that a native Texan belongs at home.

* The New York Jets who were supposed to be Super Bowl material this season, have been playing too defensively, according to quarterback Richard Todd. But center Joe Fields put it another way: ''I think we've been trying to force things too much.''

* After Pittsburgh handed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers their ninth straight loss last week, Steeler Coach Chuck Noll told reporters: ''I don't think many of those young Tampa Bay kids know how good they are. We had to come from behind to beat them, and, in fact, didn't go ahead until there were only 31 seconds left in the game.'' Pittsburgh has won five in a row.

* Because they have invested so much money in backup quarterback Paul McDonald, the Cleveland Browns may not try to re-sign 34-year-old QB Brian Sipe when he becomes a free agent on Feb. l. Instead, McDonald will be given a chance to run the club next year.

* From Houston Oilers General Manager, Ladd Herzog, on Angelo Fields, a 300 -lb. lineman from Michigan State who failed to make it with the club: ''Originally our coaches thought that Fields would be All-Pro. Instead he turned out to be All-Cafeteria!''