Mike Ditka is coaching again, but can the steel will that drove da Bears raise the saints to glory?
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And when the losses pile up and the media start running him down? "Thomas Jefferson said years ago, 'I don't care what people say or write about me, but I do care what I think about myself and character.' I think about that a lot. Not that I'm perfect, but I know who I am at this point in my life. And I think I understand at this point in my life more than ever. I took the four years off and put things in perspective in a lot of ways that I needed, I really did. You get put up on that pedestal, you better realize that they have one ambition, to knock you off of it."
He has grown into his coaching job and accepted New Orleans to a degree that he had not thought possible. "I really believe that I'm supposed to be here," he says. "God has put me in places for his own reasons. I'm here for a reason. I'll finish my career in this city and this organization. I've become very attached to the people here in this organization, to this football team and to this city. Let's just say I'm having a love affair with the people of Louisiana and let's try to make it happen."
The people of New Orleans have responded. Within 10 days of his signing, season-ticket sales were 3,000 greater than in the previous year. Ditka's no-nonsense approach has fans excited about the team's prospects.
That approach hasn't been lost on his troops, either. "He's a very motivating coach," says four-year linebacker Winifred Tubbs. "If you don't get the job done, it's your ass," agrees linebacker Mark Fields. "He'll let you know." "Yeah," Tubbs adds, "you'll be outta here. If that's not motivation enough, then no one in the world is gonna make you play any better. If you don't get the job done, then you're gonna go. He's not gonna put up with players who don't do the job."
Safety Anthony Newman likes the mood of the team. "There's no joking around; if you don't make plays you won't be playing. He's trying to create a winning program here." That's the impact Ditka has had.
"The wins will come," Ditka said. "Bill Parcells said it well: 'Before you can win, you gotta figure out why you're losing.' Then you'll have a chance to win." *
Ken Shouler, of White Plains, N.Y. is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado as well as the author of the forthcoming book The Hundred Best Baseball Players of All-Time--And Why (Addax Publishing; Lenexa, Kansas).