Thursday, December 19, 1996
Peccatiello turns to past, looks to future

BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Larry Peccatiello is making a football fashion statement. For his final week with the Cincinnati Bengals, the deposed defensive coordinator will be wearing a Super Bowl XXVI sweatshirt as a reminder of better days.

Peccatiello says his wardrobe will not waver, nor will it be washed. He is oblivious to potential odor problems. He is more interested in the shirt's symbolism than its smell.

''I don't like going out like this,'' he said Wednesday at Spinney Field. ''It doesn't sit right with me. No matter how you cut it, I got fired. This is not the way I want to go out. I'm going to go out with another one of these.''

At this, Peccatiello formed a fist and extended his arm to reveal his ring from Super Bowl XVII, one of four he earned as an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins. He was wearing this, too, for its subliminal message.

Whatever failings Bruce Coslet had found with his coaching, Peccatiello still had glittering proof of his success. At a point in his career when he couldn't be sure where he was headed, he was able to find comfort in remembering where he'd been.

Hired to be fired

Football coaches are hired with the understanding they will ultimately be scapegoats, but Peccatiello confounded the odds for nearly a quarter of a century. Cincinnati was his fourth stop in the National Football League, his eighth job altogether, and the first place where he was dismissed before another opportunity arose.

Shown the exit Monday, Peccatiello decided to don his Super Bowl souvenirs the way an old soldier might his war medals. In defeat, he was defiant.

''I'll tell you what,'' he said, ''coaches are so resilient you think sometimes their bodies are rubberized. No matter what the situation, no matter who you go against, when you go to war on Sunday you think you've got as good a chance as anybody else.''

Peccatiello has been coaching for 36 years, and his resume reads like a road map. He has worked in six states, and owned seven homes. He compares the moving ordeal to root canal.

Yet he has not had his fill of football. Not nearly. Saturday, Peccatiello will observe his 59th birthday. Sunday afternoon, he will join the ranks of the unemployed, no less eager to land a new gig. Already, there have been sympathy calls from Buffalo's Marv Levy and San Diego's Bobby Ross, but neither coach was able to offer Peccatiello a job.

''I think I'll be OK,'' he said. ''I love what I do. I really do. I feel fortunate that I can honestly say that I've never gone to work a day in my life when I'd rather be somewhere else.

''The three hours that I spend on Sunday are as exhilarating an experience as I think any man could ever hope for. It goes by quick. It's a constant mind game. It's competitive every second of the way. It's just a euphoric experience that I can't describe, but I live for it. I love it. When the game's over, I'm completely exhausted, even though I didn't have to rush the passer once.''

It's part of the job

It is a good thing football coaches find their games so fulfilling, for they pay a steep price in pursuing this career path. Hours are lengthy. Pressures are ponderous. Security is as ephemeral as last week's score.

Peccatiello had to know his position was precarious when Dave Shula was sacked in mid-season, and the Bengals enter Sunday's season finale against Indianapolis ranked 25th out of 30 NFL teams in total defense. In Peccatiello's defense, Cincinnati's defensive talent is still sub-standard, and their 42 turnovers are unmatched.

Coslet deserves the chance to bring in his own coaches, of course. Still, it is curious that he fired four-fifths of the defensive staff while sparing Bengals icon Tim Krumrie.

''I am not angry because I anticipated this,'' Peccatiello said. ''It doesn't shock me. It hasn't upset me. I get more concerned for the family members who are concerned over my situation: My mom, my daughters. As for me, I'm a survivor.''