Murphy Takes 5

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Bob Schnelker: Lynn Dickey, James Lofton best I ever coached

Posted Dec 8, 2016

Part II of an oral history with the former Packers assistant coach

Lynn Dickey and James Lofton shown after Lofton became the team's all-time leader in receiving yards on Oct. 6, 1985. The Packers defeated the Lions that day 43-10.

Cliff Christl started gathering oral histories with former Packers and others associated with the team in 2000 and will continue to gather them as Packers historian. Excerpts from those interviews will be periodically posted at www.packers.com

Bob Schnelker served 10 years as an assistant coach with the Packers under five different head coaches: Vince Lombardi, Phil Bengtson, Dan Devine, Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg. When Starr hired Schnelker to be his offensive coordinator, the Packers’ offense had been in shambles for more than a decade. Ten times in 12 years it had finished in the bottom six in the NFL in total yards. Under Schnelker, the Packers finished 12th, second, sixth and 12th. In all, Schnelker spent 10 years as an assistant with the Packers and 27 as an NFL assistant. Here, he discusses his post-Lombardi years with the Packers.

On No. 1 draft picks Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski: “Donny was a better player than Grabowski. He had more talent. Donny had all the talent in the world: Speed, quickness, great hands. He would have made a good receiver. Grabowski wasn’t a rough-and-tumble guy like Jimmy Taylor. He was more of a finesse-type fullback. Donny had everything and didn’t quite live up to his potential. He played pretty good, but not great.”

On halfback Dave Hampton, who played for the Packers from 1969-71: “I liked Dave Hampton. He had all the traits to be a (darn) good player.”

On Phil Bengtson, head coach of the Packers from 1968-70: “When he became head coach that was murder. Boy, he and I would get in some (darn) arguments. He didn’t know offenses worth a (crap). He thought he did because he stopped offenses. At that point, I knew what I was doing. I knew a lot of new things and wanted to do new things. Boy, when Phil was drinking we’d have some of the (darndest) arguments about things I wanted to put in. And he didn’t know a (darn) thing about it. When he was drinking, it was like, ‘I’m going to argue with Schnelker no matter what he says.’”

On whether having him oversee the passing game and offensive line coach Ray Wietecha oversee the running game without a coordinator in Bengtson’s final two seasons was a workable arrangement: “Ray was a good coach. It worked out all right. Ray and I were good friends then. We had played together with the Giants. Later on, we sort of split apart.”

On what the falling out entailed: “We disagreed. Ray was hot-headed like I was. We didn’t have words. We just sort of ignored each other.”

On being interviewed for the head coaching job after Bengtson was fired in 1970: “Yeah. I never had a chance, really.”

On what he knew about the interview process then and whether he felt he was given serious consideration for the head coaching job after Bart Starr was fired in 1983: “You know what kept me from having a chance was (executive committee member) Jerry Atkinson, the guy at Prange’s. He hated me. I never did know why. But he hated me. I called him a few days after they interviewed me. There were a few days in between before they hired anybody. I forgot who told me, but somebody told me that he didn’t particularly like me. So I called him and tried to ask him why he was against me getting the job. He said, ‘I don’t need to talk to you.’ And he hung up. He said something like, ‘Why are you calling me?’ I don’t really remember.”

On the Packers’ decision to hire Dan Devine in 1971 over the three other coaches they interviewed: him, Joe Paterno and Frank Kush: “How he got that job? He’s the worst one. You talk about a guy who didn’t know football, he didn’t know (crap) about football. You know what he was? He was the best glad-handler who ever lived. A (BS-er).”

On Devine’s success as a college coach: “He was a great recruiter. He’d put his arm around your back when he was talking to you, like you were his best buddy. I could see him doing that to parents and kids. In college that’s what you need. Get good players and let the coaches coach them.”

On whether Devine also delegated authority to his assistants in the pros: “Oh yeah. He didn’t know any better. He couldn’t coach.”

On talking football with Devine in coaches’ meetings: “I could tell you some true stories you wouldn’t believe. He used to have me come in and the first thing he wanted to know was about the sweep. He’d have me go through every little detail about it and he’d sit there. From then on, if I had a real good play that worked, he’d have me come in and explain it to him. He used to tell me, ‘Now, I’m going to look at film. Have (film director) Al Treml bring me in film of the upcoming team.’ He’d say, ‘Tell Al to put those on my desk. I want to look at them.’ I told Al one time, ‘I don’t think he’s really looking at those.’ They were in cans where the tops would slip off, so Al and I would put toothpicks up there where the metal would come down over the side. We’d put the toothpick up there and break it off, so you couldn’t see it. If somebody took the lid off, they’d fall off. But the next day, Al would go in and get that tape – a couple cans or four cans – bring it back and look, and there were the toothpicks. (Devine) never once looked at those films. But he used to tell us all the time, ‘I want to look at those. Put them on my desk.’”

On other memories of his one season with Devine: “Then he broke his leg (in the 1971 season opener). I was standing right next to him when he got hit. From then on, he’d come into the meetings and he was in a wheelchair, but he had a thing where he could put his broken leg straight out. He’d put on his coaching gear and then put a whistle around his neck. I got a kick out of that. Every time I saw the whistle, I’d go, ‘For what?’ Here’s a guy with a broken leg getting up in front of the team and he’s got a whistle that identifies him as a head coach. I only stayed one year and got out.”

On Scott Hunter, the Packers’ starting quarterback for most of 1971: “He was an outgoing kid and had a lot of fun. He was sort of limited, too, but he did OK.”

On tight end Rich McGeorge, who played from 1970-78: “He was a good tight end. I liked Rich. He was a smart kid. He wasn’t as tenacious as some of those other tight ends, but he could block pretty good. He could catch the ball. He probably could have played outside a little bit like they do now days with tight ends. He was sort of nifty.”

On his philosophy behind the vertical passing game: “It was to score quickly. Mine was always throw it downfield first, then throw it short if you had to. Now, if it’s open short, they throw it right away. That holds teams back. I knew I could design ways to get guys open deep. And if they weren’t, the quarterback would go to his second or third receiver. They knew the sequence. I kept it simple.”

On how he arrived at that philosophy after playing under and cutting his teeth as an assistant coach under Lombardi and his run-oriented offense: “I always figured: Draw up things that are going to be big plays. You’re going to win with big plays most of the time. Then I’d fix it up, so if the deep one wasn’t open, something underneath was going to come open. One or the other had to be open the majority of time.”

On where his pass plays originated and the key to his offensive success: “I always came up with my own ideas. I always felt the best part of the game was to get the ball downfield. The other thing that helped me get the ball downfield was that I always had a good tight end. They controlled that whole middle. You either had to stop the deep guy or stop the tight ends who were pretty (darn) good. (Paul) Coffman, Steve Jordan (in Minnesota). I don’t even remember when it started. I don’t remember why I did it. It just evolved. With Lombardi, you were sort of held back from that.”

On how much his personnel influenced his philosophy: “I thought, ‘(Heck) I get the ball down the field because you’ve got the people who can do it.’ We had (James) Lofton, (John) Jefferson, Carroll Dale. They could get down the field and they ran the routes that you wanted. If they ran them that way and the quarterback read it that way, then that play was going to be successful. A lot of teams now days go to the short guy first if he’s open. It drives me nuts when I watch games and they’ve got third-and-6 and throw a 5-yard pass. It doesn’t make any sense.”

On whether the Cover-2 defense has changed things: “Maybe they play it better and players have more speed now. I don’t know why people have trouble with that. But the middle of the field is still open. And if you hold the linebackers, it’s still open.”

On James Lofton, Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver who played for the Packers from 1976-86: “He was the best I’ve ever been around. He’d do everything you asked of him. He was a hard worker. He had that great size. He was strong. He could run. And he wasn’t just a runner. He could run patterns. I loved coaching (him). I never coached anybody better. He was the best.”

On the deep-out patterns that Lofton turned into big plays when Lynn Dickey was the quarterback: “He could beat anybody with it. It was what we call a zig-out. He’d break to the post and then break back to the corner. We had a system between him and the quarterback. If the defender was inside, he’d throw it deep in the corner. If the defender was behind him, he’d break it back toward the sideline, coming back to the quarterback. (Lofton) could do it on anybody.”

On the threat Lofton posed over the middle: “He’d run that deep-in over the middle all the time. He was good at it. He was tough. He never shied away from anything. He had everything you needed. And he was smart.”

On whether wide receiver John Jefferson fit his offense: “I don’t think he ever had great speed, but he fit. We didn’t have anybody any better. Maybe we could have used somebody a little faster. But he had great hands. He made circus catches. He was that type of guy, but you didn’t know if he was happy (in Green Bay).”

On whether that had anything to do with him being overshadowed by Lofton after he had been the star in San Diego: “He was in the backseat and I don’t think he liked it.”

On whether Dickey looked first for Lofton: “Why shouldn’t he? (Lofton) caught everything he threw at him. Maybe the greatest long passing pair I’ve ever seen.”

Paul Coffman runs upfield with a reception, eluding Minnesota Vikings linebacker Scott Studwell, Nov. 23, 1980. The Packers defeated the Vikings 25-13.

On Coffman, who played for the Packers from 1978-85: “The best tight end I coached there was Paul Coffman. He had to work hard and had that physical problem with one arm being shorter than the other. But he could catch a ball. He had some great games. Concentration, effort. He’d run a route just like I asked him to run it all the time. He’d work at it, do it in the practice, do it in the game and come wide open.”

On Dickey’s ability as a passer: “I always said about Lynn Dickey, he was the greatest long passer I ever coached. He was hurt a lot. But about the second year I was there, he had a tremendous year. He threw for over 4,000 yards, I think. He had that great arm. And anybody who was open deep, he’d hit them on a dead run.”

On Dickey’s play in the Packers’ 48-47 victory over Washington in 1983: “I look at that Washington game every once in awhile because it was on my birthday. He threw some of the (darndest) passes. Don Meredith was doing the game. He raved all night long about the pinpoint passing of Lynn Dickey.”

On David Whitehurst, who mostly backed up Dickey from 1977-83: “I liked Dave. He was a good backup. He didn’t have much at all as far as talent. He was OK.”

On his instant determination that 1981 No. 1 draft pick Rich Campbell wasn’t going to turn out as a quarterback: “That was a mistake I made, saying something about him in the paper. That hurt the kid and I apologized to him in private. But he couldn’t throw the football. He kept the thing clear down by his belt until he was ready to throw. Then he had to bring it all the way up and throw it. I always taught the quarterback: ‘If you wait, you’re late.’ When you see a guy is going to come open, the ball has to be on its way. By that time, he was just starting to throw it. And by the time he threw it, the defender was there. (But) I did that guy an injustice and I was always sorry about that.”

On whether Campbell’s throwing motion could have been corrected: “It took him forever. And I’ve always said, ‘Don’t try to change somebody.’ I’m talking about something they’ve done since grade school. The way he threw the ball, he always had it way down here by his belt buckle. It should have been up here (by his chest). It took him all that time to get it up here. You talk about anticipation, even if he did anticipate, he was going to be late. And if he didn’t anticipate, he was going to be way late and get intercepted 1,000 times. He just couldn’t get the ball off quick enough. He had the arm to do it.”

So Campbell had enough arm strength: “His arm was decent. Probably stronger than Bart’s. But not like Lynn Dickey and those people.”

On whether Starr accepted your evaluation of Campbell, one year after he had drafted him sixth overall and immediately after you watched him throw in training camp for the first time: “You know Bart never questioned me. He never even brought it up. Like I said, I did Rich an injustice. But Bart never said one word to me. I was surprised.”

On essentially playing two halfbacks, Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis, in the same backfield and making it work: “I liked to use the backs in the passing game, too. They were good pass receivers. Not great. Ellis was not a fullback. Eddie Lee was a good running back.”

On Ivery’s football smarts: “There are guys like that, who had a (heck) of a time (learning) on the outside, but playing football knew what was going on. They just had that knack.”

On tackle Greg Koch, who played for the Packers from 1977-85: “I really liked him. I thought he was a really good player.”

On whether he thought Starr was a good head coach: “I thought he was starting to be. I thought he could have survived. I thought if they had just waited another year and got the right people on defense, we had a good offense. We had good receivers and the best long passer I ever saw.”

On Zeke Bratkowski, Starr’s longtime friend, leaving the staff when he was named coordinator in 1982: “He wanted to coach the quarterbacks and I told him no. When I coach the offense, I’m going to coach the quarterbacks, too. You’ve got to. That’s why I’ve never seen an offensive line coach become a coordinator and do a good job. You’ve got to be the guy talking to the guy who was pulling the trigger all the time. I told Zeke, ‘I’m not going to let you coach the quarterbacks.’ So he left. I wasn’t worried about (Starr’s and Bratkowski’s friendship), I just told Zeke, ‘I’m coaching the quarterbacks. If you want to stay as backfield coach or something, you can. But he didn’t want to.”

On Lew Carpenter, who coached the Packers receivers from 1975-85: “The thing about Lew was that he wasn’t one to chime in. I made up the offense and would do a lot of it on my own and give it to the guys. Lew never made many suggestions. But you know what I liked about him? The players liked him. He was always joking with them. He kept them happy. Sometimes that’s half the battle. Guys like Terrell Owens, if they had a guy like Lew Carpenter coaching them, they might be different players. He could keep them happy and he would never complain. Lew never wanted to go any further than he was. I think he would have been happy being a receiver coach for 100 years. So he never questioned what I did. ”

On how he recognized Monte Kiffin’s coaching skills in the one year he spent as linebacker coach in Green Bay and how they became so close: “Monte is a hell of a coach. I got him the job in Minnesota. I talked Jerry (Burns) into hiring him. Floyd Peters was the defensive coordinator and I talked Jerry into having Floyd hire him. Kiffin, Pete Carroll and I were all close in Minnesota.”

On Kiffin coaching linebackers for the Packers in 1983 and the defense ranking last in the NFL: “Just talking to guys, you can tell they’ve got their heart into the (darn) game. We used to talk a lot. I just liked him, too. Another guy I did that for was John Brunner (Packers backfield coach in 1983).”

On whether he believes the Packers gave any thought to hiring him as coach after Starr was fired: “(Executive committee member) Tony (Canadeo) told me they did, but Tony would tell you that.”

On working for Forrest Gregg in 1984-85: “Forrest and I started off together OK. Forrest was a good guy. But he shouldn’t have been a head coach. Forrest wasn’t good with the players. You’d have thought he would have been, especially having been a lineman.”

On whether Gregg feared being undermined by his veteran players as he had been in Cleveland and if it affected him as head coach in Green Bay: “I think so. I think he always was (concerned about that). Some people worried him; some didn’t. I could see Forrest being that way, let’s put it that way.”

On what happened that resulted in Gregg firing him after the 1985 season: “I don’t know. I think maybe he thought I was getting too much publicity.”

On whether he regretted never becoming a head coach: “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if I would have been a great head coach. I was a good assistant coach. Some guys aren’t meant to be head coaches. You know a typical example – Monte Kiffin. Monte wouldn’t have been a good head coach.”

Schnelker, 88, lives in Naples, Fla. The excerpts here were taken from interviews conducted in 2003, 2009 and 2016.

Part I: Schnelker - Lombardi had no peers as a motivator


 
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