The writing is on the Silverdome roof: The Detroit Lions' Wayne Fontes is as endangered a coach as can be found roaming an NFL sideline. Surprisingly, Lion players led all teams last year in pay, taking in $53 million, and they lost in the wild-card playoff round. Then, in March, Detroit handed free-agent quarterback Scott Mitchell a $5 million bonus to sign with the Lions for four years. Detroit is 3-4. Fontes's assistants are all in the final year of contracts that management refused to extend before the season. Fontes, whose contract ends after the '95 season, has to win at least nine games to survive. Next in line on the coaches' chopping block (above, lined up behind Fontes): the Houston Oilers' Jack Pardee; the Denver Broncos' Wade Phillips, even though his now 2-5 team beat the San Diego Chargers on Sunday; and Sam Wyche of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Meanwhile, don't look for any of the late-or postseason coaching vacancies to be filled by Mike Ditka, who told SI recently, "I'd definitely go back, to the right situation."
Last week the New York Post reported that the former Chicago Bear coach has been regularly dropping big money at Casino Magic, a floating casino in Bay St. Louis, Miss. The Post said that on Oct. 19, Ditka was tossing $500 chips around the craps table "like birdseed." After one player had a losing run with the dice, the paper reported, Ditka vented his anger at the man. "You ain't even tryin', dammit!" Ditka snarled. "You roll with no enthusiasm, pal! No enthusiasm!"
What pillar-of-the-community owner is likely to take a chance on a coach who is known to enjoy rolling the dice?
They Said It
"There's a perception that Superman can't fly anymore. That's nonsense. We wouldn't trade John Elway for any quarterback in football."
—Denver owner Pat Bowden.