Friends, family & football for Scott Linehan
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
He once put 403 yards on Mankato State and 415 on Eastern Washington. By the end of his college career, quarterback Scott Linehan had piled up 7,018 career passing yards for Idaho, which to this day ranks fifth in school history. He had a 32-16 record as a starter and led the Vandals to two Division I-AA playoff berths.
All in all, not a bad college resume. Linehan got an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine and hired an agent. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League offered him a contract that included some guarantees.
But on NFL draft day in 1987, Linehan's phone never rang.
"As soon as I didn't get drafted, Winnipeg pulled the guarantees out," Linehan said. "So I was real sour, but I really didn't want to play Canadian Football anyway."
Still, Linehan couldn't help thinking: "Well, I blew this whole deal."
A couple of days later, Linehan's father took him out to the university golf course to take his mind off things.
"I was pretty down because I didn't think I was going to get a chance," Linehan said.
Linehan was on the seventh hole when he was told there was a phone call for him in the clubhouse.
"That's a tough place to play because you don't get many flat lies," said the voice on the other end.
It was none other than Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys, then one of the NFL's pre-eminent personnel men. The Cowboys wanted to sign Linehan as a rookie free agent. (Yes, Brandt had played the golf course previously in Moscow, Idaho.)
Linehan was delighted. Nothing much came of Linehan's NFL playing career. Battling shoulder problems, he was cut at the start of his rookie training camp in '87.
Linehan now jokes that he did not even get a cup of coffee in the NFL. "I didn't even get into the restaurant," he said.
His NFL career "highlight" may have come at a spring minicamp, when star running back Herschel Walker asked if Linehan wanted to warm up with him. As soon as the day's work was done, Linehan called all his friends to tell them: "I just ran a lap with Herschel Walker!"
Now, 19 years after that call from Brandt, Linehan has found his calling: as an NFL head coach. His career path began to be formed shortly after his release from the Cowboys.
"I had just gotten married," Linehan said. "We had about two months of rent money left. My wife (Kristen) was going back to the University of Portland, where she was playing basketball."
Linehan needed to pay the bills, so he spent the next couple of years working for Jostens, the firm that sells class rings and caps and gowns to graduating students. One day, he watched his former college coach, Dennis Erickson, lead Washington State to a comeback victory over Troy Aikman and then top-ranked UCLA. He was bitten by the coaching bug.
"I just thought, 'I've got to have this. I want to have a shot at this,' " Linehan said.
Thus began a winding trek that would take him to Idaho (twice), UNLV, Washington and Louisville in the college ranks, and then Minnesota and Miami in the NFL.
When Linehan, a native of Sunnyside, Wash., was named Rams head coach on Jan. 19, 2006, the Seattle Seahawks lost a few dozen fans in the Pacific Northwest.
"About a week after Scott got the job, everybody had a box (sent) to them," said Linehan's brother, Kelly. "It was kind of like Christmas. We were opening these boxes and pulling out Rams sweatshirts and Rams hats."
Normally big Seahawks fans, this has been a transition year for the Linehans, who are spread out over Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
"I tell you what, blood is thicker than water," Kelly said. "We're totally Rams fans now."
A family affair
Which makes Sunday a huge day for the family. Linehan has coached games in Seattle many times before. He was an assistant coach for the Washington Huskies for five seasons in the '90s. In 2002, he came to town as offensive coordinator for Minnesota when the Vikings played the Seahawks.
But on Sunday afternoon, he will walk onto Qwest Field as an NFL head coach, leading the Rams against Seattle.
"I think there's 25 to 30 of us who are going to be there," Kelly said. "We're planning on all getting together and having a nice dinner on Saturday, and then going into Seahawks stadium with our Rams gear on."
The travel party will include Scott's mother, Margaret, who's in her early 80s.
This is a huge game for the Rams (4-4), who probably must defeat the Seahawks (5-3) to have any kind of chance of winning the NFC West. That task is foremost on Linehan's mind. But he concedes that coming back to Seattle will be special.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the game," he said. "But I grew up in the state of Washing-
ton. You grow up a Seahawk fan."
Linehan has blocked out two hours of time Saturday night at one of his favorite Seattle restaurants for a family dinner.
"I'm not sure our family has been together like that since my father passed away, which was eight years ago," Linehan said.
His father, Bill Linehan, passed away on Nov. 1, 1998. Bill was in the National Guard when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He spent the next 4½ years in the south Pacific with the Army and went on to become principal at Sunnyside (Wash.) *igh.
The Linehan clan is of Irish-Catholic descent and Scott wears a small crucifix around his neck. He takes it off only when sleeping. "I probably haven't missed a Sunday Mass since maybe college," he says.
In the NFL's annual survey of new head coaches, Linehan was asked to name the person he'd most like to meet. His answer? The Pope and ... comedian Bill Murray.
The family business
Bill and Margaret Linehan raised seven children — three girls and four boys — with Scott the youngest of the seven. The boys were all accomplished athletes, particularly in football:
— Ron, the oldest boy, was a three-time all-Big Sky Conference linebacker at Idaho.
He died of Alzheimer's at 53 only 14 months ago.
"He had a lot of concussions," Scott said. "I think a lot of it was the post-concussion issue when he played. Ron was one of the best defensive players to ever play at Idaho."
Ron was drafted in the 17th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972 but never played in the NFL after suffering a shoulder injury in his first training camp. It would have been tough to make the team anyway — a fellow by the name of Jack Ham had been drafted to play linebacker the year before.
"Ron always said it wasn't the injury that ended his career," Kelly recalled. "It was the injury that Jack Ham didn't get that kept him from playing."
— Rick played strong safety for Idaho. He now works as principal at Kiona Benton High in Benton City, Wash., about 30 miles from Sunnyside.
— Next came Kelly, who played linebacker at Walla Walla (Wash.)
Community College and then Eastern Washington. Kelly currently coaches at Chelan (Wash.) *igh, about 150 miles north of Sunnyside.
Among Scott Linehan's three sisters, Terri lives in Boise. Sisters Patti and Ginny still live in Sunnyside, a town of 14,000 about three hours southeast of Seattle that bills itself as the "Asparagus Capital of the Northwest."
Patti won't be attending Sunday's game. Her daughter is expecting a child any day now. Everyone else is expected to converge on Seattle this weekend, including the late Ron Linehan's two sons, Josh and Cole.
Josh is a starting offensive tackle at Oregon State; Cole is a starting defensive tackle at Oregon. Both suffered season-ending injuries in September — Josh blew out his knee on Sept. 23.
"It was a tough game, because it was a year to the day after his dad (Ron) passed away," Kelly said. "He was playing Idaho, who his dad played for."
Cole suffered a broken foot the following week against Arizona State.
Scott Linehan gets back home only about once a year in the summer. But the family has remained close.
"We visit on the phone," Kelly said. "Not seeing somebody for a long time doesn't make us any less close. We're very proud of him. It's so much fun to watch him on the tube on Sundays. We're real proud of what he's accomplished and what he's going to accomplish."
On that topic, Kelly Linehan won't get an argument from Gil Brandt, who remains a Linehan fan after all these years.
"I think this guy is a rising star," said Brandt, who remains very involved in the game with NFL.com and the NFL Scouting Combine. "He has all the qualities that you want to be a successful head coach."