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An Assistant's Plight The future of a coach and his family can turn on one blown call


Shortly after head linesman Earnie Frantz's blown touchdown call
had handed the Jets a last-second victory over the Seahawks on
Dec. 6, all but sucking the last breath out of Seattle's playoff
chances, Seahawks offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski was
crestfallen. When a reporter mentioned how tough the loss must
be on the coach's family--wife Rebecca, son Shane, 15, and
daughter Courtney, 12--Bratkowski was too choked up to answer
and walked away. He knew what the mood was like in his suburban
Seattle house.

"Coaches' families aren't watching these games for
entertainment," a somber Bratkowski said last Thursday. "They're
watching to see where they'll be living next year."

Ten assistants on the 17-man Seattle coaching staff are in the
final year of their contracts. It has been widely reported--and
refuted by no one on owner Paul Allen's management team--that
Dennis Erickson and his assistants are coaching for their jobs.
The Seahawks, one of the league's most aggressive teams in the
pursuit of free agents over the past two off-seasons, are 30-32
in four years under Erickson and have never made the playoffs.
So Bratkowski, 43, who before joining the Seahawks in 1992 had
been an assistant with five college teams in 14 years and wants
to coach somewhere else if the axe falls, will probably have to
move his family again this winter.

Bratkowski grew up in a football family--his father, Zeke, was a
quarterback for the Bears, Rams and Packers, and he later became
an assistant coach--so he knows the toll that failure takes. "My
wife was awake when I got home from New York," he says. "She
just shook her head. I said, 'Tough day, honey.' Usually I sleep
fine. Not that night. The next morning my son said, 'Dad, that
sucks.' I told him talking like that's not going to do anybody
any good. We've been fortunate. Football's been good to us. It's
kind of unspoken between my wife and me: no sense in gloom and
doom, especially around Christmas. We want to be positive and
upbeat. We have to be."

Nevertheless, Bratkowski admits that the way his fate was
apparently sealed "twists the dagger a little bit. I think the
officials' job is very difficult. They need help in situations
like that. The answer's probably instant replay. But officials
have gotten themselves a little union. They're protected.
Sometimes coaches are left to twist in the wind. I love
coaching. I love game day. But when I see how it affects the
family, I wonder, Don't they deserve better?"

Yet the coach doesn't hold a grudge against Frantz. "I have no
animosity toward him," Bratkowski says, "just as I wouldn't have
animosity toward a player who made a mistake in a game."