Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 24 News List

49ers face growing trouble with Owens

BY ANGELO BRUSCAS  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

As a high school history teacher in San Francisco, Mike Holmgren learned to tolerate the inevitability that some students are bound to get out of hand and disrupt the class.

But when it happens on the football field or in the locker room, such as the sort of behavior displayed recently by Terrell Owens of the San Francisco 49ers and David Boston of the San Diego Chargers, the Seahawks head coach simply has a no-tolerance policy.

"If you cannot just abide by that thinking as a player, then probably you should play somewhere else," he said.

In Holmgren's view, many of today's high-maintenance NFL stars require as much coaching on issues of behavior as they do on the X's and O's of the game.

"It makes perfect sense that you are coaching that, too," he said.

Former Seahawks coach Dennis Erickson, in his first year as head coach of the 49ers, has had to struggle with that lesson, too, especially when it relates to Owens. Three weeks ago, Owens blew up on the field during a loss to Cleveland. A week later, in the midst of a 35-7 defeat to the Vikings, Owens ripped into offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, and then had a postgame meltdown in which he blamed quarterback Jeff Garcia and other team members for the 49ers' 1-3 start.

After the Minnesota game, Garcia said "sickness can spread. We're trying to do our best possible job to not allow that sickness to spread."

That "sickness" is something the Chargers are trying to contain with Boston, who was hit with a one-game suspension without pay two weeks ago for conduct coach Marty Schottenheimer deemed unacceptable. Among the wide receiver's misdeeds were failing to join teammates for the coach's postgame speech, leaving the bench at the end of a loss to Denver and getting into a shouting match with injured wide receiver Reche Caldwell.

The Owens and Boston behavioral problems have been widely condemned around the league. Writing for NFL.com, former quarterback and current TV analyst Boomer Esiason lashed out at the "enablers pointing to Owens' passion for the game" as an excuse for his tirades.

"This is severe conduct that is detrimental to the team. Owens' public comments are a disgrace to that entire organization," Esiason wrote.

Erickson takes exception to that contention, and says the Owens blowups are now behind the 49ers. Last week, in San Francisco's 24-17 victory over Detroit, there were no altercations as Owens caught five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.

"He's a very competitive guy, very physical," Erickson said of Owens.

"He's very emotional. I've dealt with guys like T.O. my whole career. I have no problem with coaching [Owens] at all. I love coaching him on the field and I love being around him."

Erickson has taken quite a bit of heat, however, for not enforcing a tougher stance on Owens' public displays of frustration.

"The only problem we've had is, obviously, some of his comments to the press on some things with his teammates, and the deal with his coach on the sidelines," Erickson said.

"T.O. and I sat down and talked about that, and he knows where I stand. But as far as coaching him and being around him and playing, I've enjoyed that aspect of it."

Sports psychologist Dr. Andrew Jacobs of Kansas City, Missori, has a radio show discussing the mental aspects of athletics. He said Erickson should have taken a tougher approach with Owens after the first outburst.

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