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A Nice Guy Who Finished Last

Andrew Mason
Monday May 8, 2000


There may not be a nicer guy in the Arena Football League than Dave Whinham.

This is a man who brought his assistant coaches and staff members to Tampa during the week before ArenaBowl XII in 1998 to offer any help necessary over the course of a frenzied eight days of preparation. Who spends his spare time working with at-risk youth. Who in all surroundings, is a terrific gentleman with a smile and a warm greeting for all.

He`s also a man with something you wouldn`t want on your resumé -- a ghastly 7-44 record. Mercifully, it isn`t going to get any worse, after Buffalo Destroyers owner Mark Hamister fired the affable Whinham on May 8, replacing the coach with former Buffalo Bills linebacker and FOX/Empire Sports commentator Ray Bentley.

In Whinham`s defense, his teams endured every rotten circumstance imaginable. He presided over an expansion team that proved a lousy draw and eventually moved, from Columbus, Ohio to Cleveland, between the 1991 and 1992 seasons. That franchise suffered through many "last minute changes," particularly during the year of that move. Nonetheless, his Cleveland Thunderbolts won their first-ever opener in front of 12,323 fans. And based on his win-loss record, you wouldn`t think Whinham was a coach who had ever experienced a post-game Gatorade dunking by his players, but he did - twice. Once in Cleveland when he snuck his `bolts into the playoffs in 1992, and again when he won his only game in Buffalo last season.

When he took over Buffalo in 1999, he entered a league that had matured enough to where outstanding seasons by expansion teams were difficult, if not impossible to come by, evidenced by Grand Rapids` 3-11 finish in 1998 and the poor starts of Los Angeles and Carolina this spring. And of course, there were injuries, including the season-ender in the pre-season to defensive specialist Kevin Jackson.

However, Whinham`s problems come back to the numbers seven and 44.

Other professional football coaches have had worse winning percentages than Whinham`s .159 mark. Larry Little lumbered to a 1-9-0 career record with the World League`s Ohio Glory in 1992. One year earlier, Roman Gabriel`s Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks crashed to an 0-10-0 mark. Phil Handler steered the Chicago Cardinals for five seasons over the course of an eight-year span (1943-51) and won just four of 38 games for a .105 percentage. Norb Hecker steered the Atlanta Falcons to a 4-26-1 mark in their first three seasons for a .145 mark and never served as a head coach again.

But none of those made it to the magic number of 50 career games like Whinham. Dave Shula, the former Cincinnati Bengals coach with one of the more lamentable careers in NFL history, still went 19-52, good for a .267 mark.

In the history of NFL and AFL coaches, Whinham`s ledger is unparalleled, for all the wrong reasons.

Truly unkind numbers.

Buffalo`s support of its teams is not unconditional; note the eight sub-40,000 and five sub-30,000 crowds of the mid-1980s Bills, which went 4-28 in 1984-85, a foul stretch which hadn`t been seen in western New York until the Destroyers came along. So the disappointing crowds of this season -- an average of 7,710 over two home games after averaging 12,013 last year -- shouldn`t come as a complete surprise.

It`s cruel math for Whinham: Seven plus 44 plus 7,710 equals pink slip.

Bentley can`t do much worse. But his chances of fostering an immediate turnaround are slim; in fact, the last mid-season replacement in the AFL, Stan Brock in Portland, went 1-7 after replacing Don Frease, who`d opened the 1997 season at 1-5.

Brock faced circumstances as grim as Bentley finds in Buffalo. Dating to the Dragons` 1995-96 tenure in Memphis, Frease had won just one of the 23 games leading up to the coaching change. But by 1999, Brock had built a .500 team.

Like Bentley, Brock had jumped out of the broadcast booth; he was the Dragons` color analyst before taking the job. Hamister can only hope his announcer can prove as sound a choice as Portland`s.

Want to talk pro football? Got an opinion or a question about Arenaball? Drop a line in my e-mailbag. I`ll answer questions and comments in my column on a regular basis.


 
Andrew Mason was at the Tampa Bay Storm`s first home game on June 1, 1991 and has followed the game ever since. While in college, he served as content editor and co-founder of The Storm Shelter, a Web site which covered the Tampa Bay Storm on the Internet from 1996-99. He also volunteered with the team`s media relations department in 1998 and currently contributes to ColoradoCrush.com. He's covered the NFL for various on-line outlets since 1999.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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