Last Oct. 31, Paul Wiggin, the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, was fired. It was Halloween, when things go bump in the night, but for Wiggin horror struck in the morning. Summoned to a 10:30 a.m. meeting by K.C. President Jack Steadman, Wiggin unexpectedly was greeted by Lamar Hunt, the team's owner, who just 8½ hours earlier had decided to give Wiggin his walking papers. At the very moment Wiggin heard his fate, his wife Carolynn was playing tennis with Steadman's wife Martha, who knew—but hadn't told Carolynn—that the Chiefs were firing her husband that morning.
Steadman, whose association with the Chiefs began when he was an accountant for Hunt's Penrod Oil Co., had written down the things he planned to tell Wiggin on Hunt's behalf—step by step, like so many debits. Among them was: "Paul, it's getting rough out there and it's going to get vicious before it's over, and because of that we're going to make a coaching change." The news of Wiggin's dismissal triggered an outburst of emotion throughout the Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium offices. Secretaries, PR men, assistant coaches and players were shocked. Many wept. When the news got out, Mona Campbell, the switchboard operator, was besieged by calls from irate fans; Wiggin, they said, was a martyr. Letters received by the Chiefs and the Kansas City Star almost unanimously lauded the immensely popular Wiggin and ripped management, even though the Chiefs were 1-6 at the time and Wiggin was leaving with an 11-24 record for his 2½ seasons.
The day before, the Chiefs had been drubbed by Cleveland 44-7, a particularly humiliating defeat for Wiggin, who was a standout defensive end for the Browns during his 11-year playing career. Nevertheless, Wiggin's firing was promptly labeled a panic move. At the start of the season, the K.C. management and coaching staff had prepared the local media, as well as the fans, for the inevitable: 1977 would be another lean year for the Chiefs. Not only was Kansas City saddled with the NFL's toughest schedule but its 43-man roster also included 27 players with less than four years' experience in the pros. Worst of all, the Chiefs were still suffering from six straight terrible drafts conducted by Wiggin's predecessor, Hank Stram, who himself would soon be fired as the head coach of the New Orleans Saints.
Kansas City's fortunes ebbed after its stunning victory over Minnesota in the 1970 Super Bowl. The six subsequent drafts produced an abundance of stiffs, one convicted felon and only five players who remain on the Chiefs' roster. Stram compounded his ruinous drafts with equally horrendous trades, most notably one which sent Defensive Lineman Curley Culp and a No. 1 draft choice to Houston for Defensive Lineman John Matuszak, who played only a season and a half in Kansas City before being peddled for two draft choices, neither a No. 1. Another first-round choice was wasted in a deal for George Seals, a defensive lineman who played just five games in a Chiefs uniform. In effect, Stram's blunders cost Wiggin his job.
"The tragedy for me was that I was fired in the middle of the year," Wiggin says with bitterness. "I wasn't even good enough to finish out the season. And I did a lot of things right. I'd like to do a lot of things over again, but there isn't a guy in America who wouldn't. I bit the bullet during a very tough time in this team's history. If someone someday says, 'Paul, you played a part in the return to glory of the Kansas City Chiefs,' I'm not going to modestly say, 'Bull.' You're damn right I did."
In hiring Wiggin, the Chiefs had purposely selected a man diametrically opposed to the pompous and arrogant Stram, who had coached the team for 15 seasons. Credibility and faith in the team's future were of prime importance to the franchise, because when Wiggin was signed, the Chiefs seemed to be headed nowhere. The fans had been turned off. In fact, season-ticket sales had fallen from 72,885 to 65,564 during the last three years of Stram's regime.
The 43-year-old Wiggin, whose long suits are honesty and candor, was hired on Jan. 23, 1975. He was promised patience and three drafts by Hunt and Steadman. When Wiggin's first two Kansas City teams limped home with 5-9 records, Hunt and Steadman reaffirmed their "patience and three drafts" commitment by adding three years to Wiggin's contract at $65,000 per year, plus perquisites. Seven games later, the promise was broken.
"If only I hadn't been fired off a sheet of paper," Wiggin says, shaking his head. "When you're dealing with a human being, you should look him in the eye. You don't have to write down why you fired a guy. You better know why you fired him. I'm still wondering, really, why was I fired? What did I do to get fired? I'd like to know.
"I felt I was in total control of my emotions when it happened. I didn't cry or beg or ask for a press conference. I just sat there and accepted it. I did tell them that some of the problems I was being fired for happened long before I ever got there. I said, 'I know one thing, nothing I say is going to get my job back. I just want to say what I feel.' Then I was kind of sent to my room. I asked them, 'What do you want me to do? Do you want me to go home? Do you want me to stay?' And they said, 'Do whatever you want.' "
Wiggin returned to his office, an opulent, paneled suite that Stram had had designed to his specifications. The office hardly suited Wiggin's temperament or taste. Of a mirror on the wall, a newsman once said, "Henry used that to check his necktie; Wig uses it to see if his shirt is tucked in." Wiggin collected his personal effects and packed up the log he had kept while he was with the Chiefs. He wryly noted that the last page in the last binder was dated Oct. 31.
Had Wiggin left Arrowhead immediately, a full-scale player revolt might have erupted. Angered and hurt by Hunt's decision to fire their coach, the players were placated only when Tom Bettis, the defensive assistant who had been with the club since 1966, agreed to take over as interim coach. Like many others, however, Bettis' initial reaction was emotional. When he learned of the firing, Bettis came into Wiggin's office with tears in his eyes. "Paul, I'm going with you," Bettis said. Wiggin said, "It doesn't do you any good to go with me, Tom. I just sat in a meeting where people said they were going to honor my contract. If you walk out the door, they don't honor anything. You're 43 years old and I think you've got to take this chance."
Recalling that conversation and the cavalier manner in which Bettis and the rest of Wiggin's old staff were axed less than two months later at the end of K.C.'s 2-12 season, Wiggin says, "I probably did Tom a disservice, but I really believed he could be the coach of the Chiefs for five or 10 years. I think if anything really hurt me, it was the chance they didn't give Tom Bettis. I believed Lamar was a better person than that."
As Wiggin packed his things, the Chief players, alone or in twos and threes, came by to express their regrets. Center Jack Rudnay cried, and so did Linebacker Jimbo Elrod. Jim Lynch, the 10-year line-backer, wanted to quit on the spot, but Wiggin dissuaded him. Wiggin will never forget the reaction of Jim Nicholson, a 275-pound tackle best known for his vicious play.
"He came into my office," Wiggin says, "and he just stood there and started to cry. Picture a 6'6" guy with a beard crying. I went over to him and said, 'Nick, don't you feel bad. You paid the price. You did everything I ever asked you to do.' And with that, he threw his arms around me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. He continued to cry, and then he kind of let me go, mumbled something and went out the door. It was the strangest period, maybe two minutes, where a guy expressed his emotions and never said a word. It was quite an experience."
The Kansas City players later issued a statement that said they were "...shocked and saddened with what has happened here today. Every man on this football team feels a deep sense of guilt for the actions that were taken. It is our fault that we lost a fine man and a great individual—Paul Wiggin. One of the great crimes in life is to have someone else suffer the consequences of your own actions. We feel this is the case today."
Later that day Hunt and Steadman held a press conference to explain Wiggin's dismissal. "We've decided in the best interests of the Kansas City Chiefs to make a coaching change," Hunt said. "We've been disappointed in the progress of the team and, in my opinion, we were no longer on a course toward the top. Paul Wiggin was a very positive factor not only for the Chiefs but, I believe, for all of sports in Kansas City. He gave the Chiefs credibility and helped us through a very trying period. [But] we're dedicated toward making the Chiefs the best and we were no longer making satisfactory progress in that direction."
Most of the assembled newsmen, whom Steadman later called "a lynch mob," reacted sharply.
"Whose decision was this?" asked one.
"The people involved were myself, Jack Steadman and Jim Schaaf [the Chiefs' general manager]," Hunt said.
"Who broached the subject?"
"It was not something that came overnight. It's not losing six out of seven games, but we lost something somewhere and we felt as a management group, we felt something was missing."
"What was missing?"
"I can only say there was something missing and it wasn't only one thing."
"You've had patience, and this move comes as close to panic as any," said Bruce Rice, the KCMO broadcaster who also is the Chiefs' color commentator on radio. "When Wiggin was hired, you said he was three drafts away from being a contender and now you've only given him two drafts."
"I don't think we're any drafts away from respectable football," Hunt said. "Frankly, the team wasn't on a respectable course."
"Did you waver in your rebuilding philosophy?"
"It was the philosophy of the Kansas City Chiefs, and I'm still not wavering from that. I'm not happy this decision had to be made. I couldn't say enough nice things about Paul Wiggin...[but] I think we've got to improve our talent. In two more drafts I think we'll have the talent. Somewhere we were missing that leadership factor. I think Tom Bettis will give us that factor."
Then Steadman spoke. "It was a decision we as a management group made together. I...you...can sit and analyze every aspect of our head coach's leadership and after a while you analyze yourself out of answers. It was obvious we weren't playing with the desire and intensity needed in the NFL. Somewhere along the way something happened. We can't answer what happened, but it's fairly evident we weren't making progress these last five weeks."
The firing created a sad scene in the Wiggin household that night. Carolynn broke the news to the Wiggins' daughters—Kymberly, 16, Kristyn, 14 and Kellie, 10—when she picked them up at school. "When I got home," Paul says, "it was very emotional, because everyone just broke down. I tried not to, and at that point I didn't. I tried to explain that you take the philosophic approach that everything happens for the best. But they just didn't understand because all the feedback my children got was that 'My daddy is doing a good job.' This was from their friends, which is really a pretty good barometer, because while adults generally tend to be diplomatic, children are honest.
"It was interesting. In the 300-plus letters I got from people, most of whom I didn't know, a lot of them said, 'Your children will encounter some cruelty.' Not once did any member of my family come across any form of cruelty. The only one who had any problem at all was my youngest girl, and that was self-inflicted. When she went to school the next day, she stood outside and wouldn't go into the room. The teacher went out and brought her in—and the other kids all kind of rallied around her. They made her a hero."
For reasons known only to himself, Lamar Hunt visited the Wiggin home on Halloween night. Wiggin guesses now that Hunt wanted to justify the firing, but neither his reasons nor his resolve were any match for Carolynn Wiggin.
"My wife tore into him," Wiggin says, "and he didn't handle it at all. He got up, walked away and left. She just wanted to know why. Simply, the repetitive why. 'Why you, Lamar? The guy who put together the AFL. The guy who had the guts to hang in and stick to his principles. Why you?' Lamar didn't say anything."
The next morning Carolynn, who volunteers at the Prairie School library on Tuesdays, was reluctant to leave home because Paul seemed disturbingly calm.
"I was really on a kind of low high," he says. "All the adrenaline was flowing, but I was trying to be what I thought was a real man. I told her, 'I'm fine. I've got it under control.' "
Carolynn went to the library, Paul went upstairs to shower, and then, in the empty house, his iron resolve cracked.
"I just broke down and cried," Wiggin says. "It wasn't like me. I'm kind of an emotional person, but I tend to express it in the good times. I always believed a winner was a guy who cried when he won, not when he lost. I guess there was so much inside, I just reached the point where I broke down. From that point on, I started looking at the good side of things, I guess."
Answering mail helped cheer Wiggin; he replied to each of the letters he received. Phone calls from NFL friends also bolstered him.
Paul Brown, who coached Wiggin in Cleveland, called to say of Hunt and Steadman, "Well, you know, Paul, neither of them has ever worn a jockstrap."
"That was his lead-in," Wiggin says, chuckling. "He also said, 'Paul, you're going to be all right. Just sit tight, keep your mouth shut and don't say anything. Just relax and everything's going to be all right.' So I said, 'What makes you think everything's going to be all right?' And he said. 'Because I'm on your side.' "
Browns owner Art Modell, who later would fire Forrest Gregg as his head coach, called to tell Wiggin that Hunt's firing him was "preposterous."
Wiggin's neighbors rallied behind him, too, and, reacting as if there had been a death in the family, they deluged the Wiggin household with food. A few nights later the Wiggins and three other couples went to dinner at Antoine's on The Boulevard. When Paul walked in, the patrons gave him a standing ovation.
The most wrenching adjustment for a fired coach is learning to cope with idle time. The job of head coach can consume 20 hours a day and is crammed with planning, meetings, practice and other tasks.
"It almost gets to be a love affair between you and your players and your team," Wiggin says. "You've got to love what you're doing, because it gets to be so much a part of your life. It especially became that way with us because when things aren't going the way you want, you're struggling to find the pride you have for the organization you represent. Particularly for your players, you try to find a way to win.
"It's not the winners who are doing a good job. They've got the goose laying the golden eggs. It's that poor bastard who can't get that goose to lay anything, who's dying and working and going through an inner search with himself, daily, trying to find out 'What can I do to get a win this week?' You find yourself obsessed with that. It becomes such an ingrained part of your life that when it's taken away, it's a very emotional experience. When I broke down the day after I got fired, the feeling was, 'They took my team away from me.' It was like they had taken one of my children away from me. The day before I was fired, I would have given $1,000 for a day off. The day after I would have given $5,000 to be back."
In the NFL, 1977 will be remembered as the year of the pink slip. Eight of the league's 28 head coaches were fired and two others resigned. Because the termination of a head coach usually means his staff is terminated as well, some 75 coaches were looking for new jobs. Of the 10 head coaches, three—George Allen (Redskins), Chuck Knox (Rams) and Jack Pardee (Bears)—have found new head coaching positions. One—Buffalo's Jim Ringo—is now an assistant coach with New England, while another—Cleveland's Gregg—just joined the San Diego staff as offensive line coach. Wiggin, Don Coryell (Cardinals), Tommy Hudspeth (Lions), Kenny Meyer (49ers) and Stram are still out of work.
"It's never been like this year," Wiggin says. "It's become a syndrome, almost like skyjacking. I would be embarrassed for any industry, even, say, the steel business, that in one given year fired almost 40% of the people who make it happen. I can't envision any industry being that far off, or one whose executives are that limited. I can't believe there are that many inept people in football. It doesn't make sense.
"I'll swear to you the most ridiculous thing that's happened in the last three months in Kansas City is not the firing of Paul Wiggin but the firing of Phil Johnson. He was the coach of the [NBA] Kings. He was Coach of the Year two years ago. I'll bet you if you sat his superiors down and said, 'O.K., guys, you just fired your head coach, Phil Johnson. You fired him in the middle of the season, so evidently there's somebody better. Who's better than Phil Johnson? Somebody give me a name.' Not one of those guys could come up with a name. They fired a guy to fire a guy."
So what's the appeal of coaching?
"I guess everyone thinks he's going to be king of the mountain," Wiggin says. "Or thinks he's going to be Don Shula. It's like politics. Why the hell would anyone want to be President of the United States?"
Wiggin pauses. "The game is a place where I can express Paul Wiggin emotionally. There used to be two pictures on the wall of the 49ers' press room—one of total despair, 20 to 25 people on the sidelines who look like they're witnessing a murder, and right next to it, one of total elation. It represents the spectrum of pro football. And the interesting thing is that those pictures were taken within a minute of each other. That's the thing I would miss if I were to get out of football. I love that.
"I remember when I quit playing, I had withdrawal pains. Maybe it's the little boy in us. I'm still a little boy. I'm young at heart. I think and I do dumb things at times like little kids do. Maybe that's another reason. And I loved having a team. I loved being part of it, being in the position of fighting it out with somebody. It's a special experience."
Four months after his firing Wiggin still wonders why he was dismissed and ponders what course to take to get another head coaching job. He was not even a "leading" candidate for any of the vacant jobs filled this winter. The NFL rarely offers a second chance to a coach who has more Ls than Ws on his record.
"People have a tendency to say, 'Oh, yeah, he was the coach there. He didn't do very well, did he?' " Wiggins says. "That's something I've got to overcome. The problem is, I'm a damn good football coach. I've got to reestablish that somehow. But I don't know how, and that's a little bit confusing right now. Do you sit tight? What do you do?"
Interim coaches rarely succeed—-or even shake their interim designation—in the NFL. So it was for Tom Bettis, one of the seven assistants on Wiggin's staff. In accepting the job as Kansas City's interim head coach, Bettis was moved by what he felt was an obligation to the players, a moral obligation to the Chiefs and a trusting belief that Lamar Hunt would give him more than seven games to prove himself.
"I had them by the short hairs and didn't take advantage of it from a contract basis," Bettis says bitterly. "I should have asked them for a one-year contract, but I just couldn't think of myself at that time. It wasn't the way I envisioned getting the opportunity. I believed in people and thought I'd get a fair chance."
He didn't. On Dec. 19, Hunt, Steadman and Schaaf appeared en masse in Bettis' office and advised him that he and the other Chiefs coaches were fired.
Bettis should have known it would happen. The Chiefs had treated him shabbily long before his association with Wiggin, who calls Bettis "the best-kept secret in football." Bettis coached under Stram in K.C., too, and Stram once refused to grant Houston permission to interview Bettis for its then-vacant head coach's job. Bettis heard about the Oilers' request some time later, and he has rarely talked to Stram since.
Now unemployed, Bettis is considering opportunities in business. "Coaching is an unstable situation," he says. "A lot of factors out of your control affect your destiny. I don't know if it's worth it to stay in football at this point. It's like starting over again. Some guys are like nomads, but I don't like that situation. I've been spoiled by being in Kansas City, which my family loves, for 12 years. I can see a lot of plusses in getting out. Just ask yourself: How many assistants are around at age 55?"
When it came, Bettis' firing was almost anticlimactic, but no less painful for his family. "My two daughters came home from college and we discussed where I was going to go," he says. "I wasn't afraid of not getting another football job, and I'm still considering what I'll do. But life goes on. I've always been a positive person and you can't be remorseful too long."
Tom Pratt, 42, deserves a category of his own in the NFL Record Manual: "Most Coaches Worked for, One Year." A defensive line coach who had been employed by the Chiefs for 15 years, Pratt had Wiggin and Bettis fired out from over him last season. In January, Stram signed him to a two-year contract with New Orleans. Stram himself got the ax two weeks later, a few days after Pratt had purchased a home in New Orleans. Pratt eventually was hired by the new coach of the Saints, Dick Nolan. Between his two hirings by the Saints, Pratt lived in a New Orleans motel for almost a month, waiting to plead his case before the new head coach while his family stayed in Kansas City.
It wasn't an easy time for Pratt's wife Hope. Shortly after the FOR SALE sign had gone up on the Pratts' modest home in Kansas City, Stram was fired. Hope was bombarded by phone calls from newsmen, friends and strangers, all of whom wanted to know what would happen to Tom. "I was crying," Hope says, "and really down. And then in the middle of it all, I got a call from some woman who said, 'Hi. I was just driving by your house. How much are you asking for it?'
"Three hundred thousand dollars." Hope shot back.
"You go into this business with your eyes open and you ride with the head guy," Pratt says. "There are no guarantees. But it's gratifying from the personal standpoint. You realize it's a high or low situation, and that's the way you live. At Kansas City, beating the Oakland Raiders becomes the best thing ever in your life, and losing to Denver—before the Broncos were good—is the absolute lowest. It's a standard you accept. Something like selling insurance never gets you off center quite as much."
Linebacker Coach Chet Franklin, 43, was the most realistic member of the Chiefs' staff, and probably the most confident. "On the day Wiggin was fired," Franklin says, "I knew at that point we were all through in Kansas City regardless of what happened the rest of the way. I just could not see any way that we were going to get the situation turned around to their liking."
Franklin put his house on the market almost immediately, even though he had no job prospects. Although he is still unemployed, Franklin refuses to worry about the insecurity of coaching.
"If you're intelligent in this business, you're aware of the possibility of being fired," he says. "But to be honest with you, I never thought it would happen to me. Then when it did happen, it gave me an opportunity to evaluate myself, my profession and some other professions which had some interest for me. I think the only kind of security any of us has is in our heads and hands. I've still got a good head and two good hands, so I don't think there will be any problem relocating in football or in something else."
Franklin feels no hostility toward the Chiefs. "I can't go punch somebody in the nose," he says, "and usually that's my reaction if I'm bitter about something. I don't care to be associated with this organization any longer, because some of the things I believed in and worked for weren't a realization. But in a way, I feel sorry for some of the people involved here, because I think some poor judgment has been made and it will come back to haunt them. I think we have paid our dues—and some other people are going to pay theirs down the line. We were just in the wrong place at the right time."
The coach least affected by his Kansas City firing is Jack Christiansen, 48, who handled the Chiefs' offensive backs in 1977, his only year with the club. Christiansen simply left his Kansas City apartment and moved back to the home in Palo Alto, Calif., where his family has lived for 19 years. Christiansen is familiar with firings—he had been fired as head coach by the San Francisco 49ers and Stanford University—and, as he says, "Now it's no big deal. When you get fired, a lot of times it's more disappointing to your wife than to you, but my wife knew when I went into coaching that these things were going to happen. It's become more common today because there are 28 teams in the NFL instead of 10 or 12, and the owners aren't as patient. Now it's run like a business, and when things get tough, they say, 'Well, let's fire the coach.' They do it more quickly today because there's more money involved—a bigger TV package, bigger stadiums and more tickets being sold.
"You could fire every coach who ever worked if you wanted to, for some reason or other. In a lot of cases it's a matter of front-office guys taking the heat off themselves. At Kansas City, we just didn't have enough players. In the '50s we had 33 men on a roster and there were only 12 teams. At Detroit, we won the world championship in 1953 with eight guys who shouldn't have been playing. Now there are 45 guys on each of the 28 teams, so you tell me how many guys in the league really can't play."
Christiansen's advice to the fired coach: "Get over the feeling you've been a failure. Concentrate on your accomplishments.
"I got fired at Stanford and I had five straight winning seasons there. Only two coaches in the history of Stanford had five straight winning seasons. One of them was Pop Warner and the other was me. So I don't feel I failed."
For Steve Ortmayer, 34, Kansas City was his first shot at coaching in the NFL, and as a result of what happened last season, possibly his last. Ortmayer, who supervised the Chiefs' special teams, has left the profession by his own choice, moving to Oakland to be director of pro scouting for the Raiders. He assumed that post after rejecting Marv Levy's request that he stay with the Chiefs as an assistant coach.
"This thing that happened to us and all the other coaching situations in the NFL this year certainly have had an effect on the way I look at the coaching profession," Ortmayer says. "The turnover has got to affect your thinking. The reaction to our situation in and out of football was, 'Hey, you guys got screwed.' It was the basic comment of Kansas City. The program had not gone to hell. Fan support was good, attendance was good, team morale was good, and there was nothing really logical about the timing of Paul's firing."
Wiggin is one of Ortmayer's closest friends. "I'd follow Paul into the mouth of a cannon," Ortmayer says.
The firing stunned Ortmayer. "I had problems sleeping at night," he says. "This may seem strange, but for three or four days I didn't get to sleep until almost four in the morning. Then I'd wake up at 7 a.m., and sometimes as I got into the shower I'd think, 'Hey, this is just a normal day. Nothing's ever happened. Everything's just like it was.' Then I'd realize it wasn't. It was like living in a bad dream for about a week."
Ortmayer claims that Wiggin and the Chiefs' staff were victimized by the front office's loss of faith in its own philosophy. According to plan, trades that might have brought immediate help were vetoed in favor of building through the draft and coaching the younger players.
"If you were told at the start of the season that you had to win four games by the midway point," Ortmayer says, "then you'd know that by the middle of the season you'd better have won four games. But that wasn't our objective. We followed the [rebuilding] program to the letter. And all of a sudden it strikes you that no matter what the program is professed to be, the won-lost record is the bottom line."
As a result of a conversation between Wiggin and Marv Levy, the former head coach of the Montreal Alouettes whom the Chiefs hired as their new head coach on Dec. 27, 53-year-old Joe Spencer will coach the Kansas City offensive line again next season. He is the only assistant retained from Wiggin's staff.
Levy's original plan was to hire no one from the Wiggin-Bettis regime, but he changed his mind after discussing the team with Wiggin while both men were flying from New Orleans to Kansas City after Super Bowl XII. They agreed that the Chiefs now had an enormous morale problem, which might be mitigated if the fatherly and folksy Spencer, who has been in football for 34 years, should stay. He has coached teams such as the Super Bowl champion Jets and the late Chicago Fire of the late WFL, and he also spent five years with the Oilers under five different head coaches.
"Joe's a daddy to his players," Wiggin told Levy, "and they love him. In fact, you'll probably be hearing from some of them asking you to hire Joe." Levy did—and did.
Levy's change of heart understandably pleased Spencer. "My furniture's got wheels on it, and when the moving van comes by, it all rolls to the front door," Spencer says. "But I'm getting up in age now and I'm through moving. This is my last one, the end of the trail. I've had one opportunity to be a head coach in pro football. I turned it down because I wasn't ready. As the years went by, I wanted to be the best offensive line coach in the country. And I was when the Jets won the Super Bowl in 1969. So one of my goals has been reached already. Most head coaches don't have a whole lot of time to coach. I don't like the meetings and all the other things they have to contend with."
Bob Schnelker, 49, was a Chiefs offensive assistant and the loner on the staff. At the time of Wiggin's firing, Schnelker feared his career might end with the 1977 season. "The big thing is getting another job," Schnelker says. "You're a little scared about your chances of landing one, especially when you've been in the game as long as I have—24 years. There's the chance that people may think you're getting too old. It's a little frightening. You've worked all this long in the game and yet you have no seniority. A lot of times getting another job depends more on who you know than what you know—and that's frightening, too."
After spending hours by his telephone, Schnelker had his fears put to rest when he landed an assistant's job under new Head Coach Monte Clark in Detroit. "The idle time is one of the worst things about being fired," Schnelker says. "We were fired on Dec. 19, but I wasn't able to enjoy the time off. I had to sit here because I couldn't afford to miss one phone call."
The Detroit job will be the fifth assistant's position in Schnelker's 15-year coaching career. "We wondered about coming to Kansas City three years ago," he says. "Then we got used to this neighborhood and grew to love it. Now we have to move again. The one thing about my family, though, is that we've been able to adjust."
The wife of one of Wiggin's assistants, no doubt contemplating a new address, summed up the feeling of the Kansas City staff after the final game of the year in Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs had just lost to Seattle. All the coaches knew their days were numbered, and gloom prevailed as the wives gathered in a stadium office to await their husbands' arrival from the dressing room. For her part, though, Lamar Hunt's wife Norma was a model of effusive good cheer as she showered the women with Texas platitudes. Finally, as she left she said to the coaches' wives, "We'll be seein' ya."
"Hardly likely," sniffed a not-so-cheerful wife.
Carolynn Wiggin (second from left) gave Lamar Hunt an earful when he came to express regrets.
Tom Bettis wishes he had demanded a one-year contract when he became K.C.'s 'interim' head coach.
Chet Franklin calls around the league seeking employment; Hope Pratt prepares for the move to New Orleans, where husband Tom landed.
Twice a fired head coach himself, Jack Christiansen was welcomed home by O.J.; Steve Ortmayer has a front-office job in Oakland.
Joe Spencer stays in K.C. with new Coach Levy.
B.J. Schnelker is moving her plants to Lion country—Detroit—where husband Bob has found work.