THE METICULOUS MOTIVATOR RAYMOND BERRY : Locked Into His Own Private World, He's Still Been Able to Leave It Long Enough to Reach the Hall of Fame and Super Bowl

Times Staff Writer

A search for Raymond Berry starts with the understanding that he dislikes being called Ray, and that he does not do telephone interviews.

The coach of the New England Patriots doesn't like to do any kind of interviews and, when he does, it's almost as if he weren't doing an interview at all.

A member of the Patriots' front office ran into publicity director Jim Greenidge the other day. Greenidge's job, as the title suggests, is to get publicity for the organization, preferably in major media.

"Jim was looking all depressed, so I said, 'What's wrong?' He says, 'Raymond just turned down the New York Times.' "

A typical postgame exchange between Berry and reporters is a study in evasion.

Reporter: "You threw more short passes today."

Berry: "Is that right? I didn't know that. That's why I like talking to you guys."

Reporter: "Why did you run the ball on third and 19?"

Berry: "Sometimes you do what you feel like doing."

Reporter: "Why did you use six different running backs (in last week's AFC title game at Miami)?"

Berry: "Because (backfield coach) Bobby Grier suggested it."

Reporter: "Well, why did he suggest it?"

Berry: "I don't know, but I respect his opinion, so we did it."

Reporters, walking away: " Arghh !"

A few things are known. Berry was born in Corpus Christi, Tex., 53 years ago next month. He had an undistinguished career at SMU and was drafted in the 20th round by the Baltimore Colts. He caught a lot of passes from John Unitas and 19 years later was in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. How he got there is a study in determination.

But you aren't going to find Raymond Berry with his psyche lying out in the open, waiting to tell you all about it. To find the secrets behind that thin smile and those squinty, piercing eyes it's better to go to the people that have known him best.

The consensus is that he is a man who takes his job but not himself seriously. He carries both facets to the extreme, and he disarms those misled by his quiet demeanor.

THE PLAYER

Remember Silly Putty? Berry used to squeeze it to strengthen his hands. Constantly.

"He was the first one I'd seen use Silly Putty," said Weeb Ewbank, who was Berry's coach for nine years at Baltimore. "I remember when he was the receivers coach up there (at New England), one of the disappointing things to him was that he couldn't get players to stay after practice and use the Silly Putty. As soon as practice was over they'd all run for the locker room."

Today, Patriot receivers squeeze Silly Putty when they watch films or sit in meetings.

"Once he became the head coach, he got it done," Ewbank said.

But Berry's dedication as a player extended far beyond Silly Putty.

"When we used to go to the West Coast, Raymond would get his time of eating and sleeping on the same time we'd have to have when we were out there," said Ewbank, now retired and living in Oxford, Ohio. "He even wanted us to practice the same time we'd play out there.

"We'd stay a week out there on that West Coast trip, and it would be late in the fall when that sun's down low, and in the third quarter that can get pretty bad. Raymond had contact lenses but he'd also put on (sun) goggles. He's the only player that I've ever seen that used goggles. He was so meticulous about dropped balls that he didn't want to drop any because of the sun."

The Patriot press guide says that Berry practiced all 88 of his "moves" every week. Ewbank is skeptical.

"I would guess he had 88 pass maneuvers, but one of the things he stressed was to save your legs. Along that line, he was the first one I'd ever seen to get down 20 or 25 yards from the quarterback, start running in place and then take off and they'd throw to him. He'd save 20 yards of running on a deep pattern."

Berry's biggest problem was finding someone to throw to him after practice.

"One of his drills was to throw nothing but bad balls to him," Ewbank said. "I used to have to run John (Unitas) off--'John, you've had enough throwing today'--and he'd say, 'Yeah, talk to that guy out there.' "

Berry was charged with only one fumble in his 13-year career--and he insisted that should have been ruled an incomplete pass. But then, he didn't have many of those, either.

"We graded every pass that we had--how well it was thrown or why it was incomplete but I don't remember ever giving him a dropped ball," Ewbank said. "It was either an underthrow or an overthrow, or you'd have to give the defense credit.

"He was not gifted with tremendous speed. He had quickness, but the way he could catch a ball, the drills certainly helped. I don't think he would have become as great as he was if he hadn't done all those things. I remember after a game when Raymond had two or three fine catches, a newspaperman said the credit shouldn't go to great passes by Unitas as much as great catches by Berry."

Berry played his last four seasons for Don Shula, who explained recently how Berry worked with Unitas:

"They used to talk in the huddle. Unitas would say, 'Raymond, what do you have?' Raymond would then give him a pattern and he'd also give him the blocking scheme so he'd have the best possible blocking and control. John would call the play and Raymond would get open and catch the ball.

"Then one year Unitas got hurt and Gary Cuozzo got hurt and (halfback) Tom Matte became our quarterback. Tom had taken only a few snaps since college but still had to run our offense.

"So he gets in the huddle and says, 'Raymond, what do you have?' Raymond thought for a moment and said, 'Call a sweep the other way.' "

THE TEAMMATE

Like Berry and Ewbank, Art Donovan, a defensive tackle on those great Baltimore teams, also is in the Hall of Fame, although he may be in a separate wing. He and Berry were on different wave lengths.

Donovan, his Bronx accent unrefined by time, comes through profane and gregarious by phone from his Valley Country Club in Baltimore. Donovan loves doing phone interviews.

"There aren't too many stories about Raymond," Donovan said. "He was too straight and narrow--but a great guy, a hell of a guy. He was a little peculiar, to say the least.

"In two-a-day practices, after the morning practice, he'd wash his own T-shirt, his jock and some kind of little damn thing he wore to protect his back.

"In his locker, everything was in order, and every morning I used to use his hair brush, and he really used to get mad. He'd say to me, 'Arthur, I wish you would not use my hair brush.' I'd say, 'Raymond, what d'ya think, I've got the mange or somethin'?' "

On trips, Berry would carry his own bathroom scale to check on his weight. He wore sunglasses before Jim McMahon was born--but, as Ewbank said, he wore them on the field.

"One time out there we were warmin' up before playin' the Rams, we looked up and said, 'What the heck, that goofy bastard's got glasses on,' " Donovan said. "He had sunglasses on. We all thought it was funny and we started laughing--until he caught about five passes."

Donovan said that Berry had a "great sense of humor, in a subtle way, (but) Raymond didn't participate in too much of the fun. He was serious and we weren't. We got serious the day of the game.

"Every time you saw Raymond, he was squeezing that damn putty. What can you say? He made a success out of himself. He used to say to me, 'If you practiced at all, you'd be better than what you are.'

"Everybody respected Raymond. He wasn't funny. He was a studious guy, and everybody admired that. I saw him in November up in Boston. Same guy. Never changed. He's the direct opposite of Shula. Shula would make you think he was mean and nasty, but if you'd shoot back at Shula he'd give you that smile. Raymond always has a smile on his face, but he's a no-nonsense guy. The players all love him.

"Every time I saw Raymond he was carrying his playbook or some films to take 'em home to look at. I was carrying a six-pack of beer."

THE ROOMMATE

Don Shinnick roomed with Berry on the road when he was a linebacker at Baltimore. He now coaches the Patriot linebackers.

"I'd watch TV until 2 a.m.," Shinnick said. "To get enough sleep, he'd go to sleep wearing earplugs. I didn't know that for a long time. I thought he was just a sound sleeper."

Shinnick said Berry is often misjudged on two counts: that he has no sense of humor, and that he is too easygoing.

"Raymond is a very witty guy. A lot of people do not realize that. Just dry wit. He'll be very serious and, all of a sudden, something funny will come out of him.

"Ten years ago I told a general manager--and I'll leave his name out because it might be embarrassing to him now--that Raymond should have been a head coach. And this general manager said, 'Well, it's known throughout the league that he's not a tough guy.'

"But what this guy didn't understand was that being modest and being a meek person means that you're a tough guy. You just don't have to yell and do a lot of things that we think toughness is all about to be tough. His has finally come through.

"I've been around the Shulas, the Chuck Nolls, the John Maddens, the (George) Halases. They've got their strengths and Raymond has his. He's implanted what he knows is a winning attitude.

"So many coaches talk about attitude, but before that comes you first have to create atmosphere. He's talked about what that means . . . helping your teammates, everybody's important, (from the) the janitor to the the star of the team."

Berry doesn't yell, Shinnick said. "But they know when he does speak in a certain tone that he's really thought about it. That takes the place of the yelling and screaming."

He coaches by some of the same methods he used as a player, with great attention to detail.

"We went out there and played Seattle this year and the first night we had a curfew at 9 p.m.," Shinnick said. "That's unheard of. But the guys saw what he was doing and believed in it. He could have said 6 p.m. and everything would have been OK.

"He's completely exhausted after a game. He feels he should be, because if he isn't that means that he hasn't thought and done as much as he could to get the guys ready to play.

"I don't think there'll be a club that will outhit this team and outhustle this team and play harder. They may make the great play, but those three things, no team's ever gonna do. The guys know that he's a pretty tough individual."

Berry was the receiver coach for two Patriot coaches, Chuck Fairbanks and Ron Erhardt. When Erhardt was fired in 1981, his staff went with him, but Berry remained in the area as national sales manager of premium accounts for a manufacturer of caps and hats.

Typically, on Oct. 25, 1984, when owner Billy Sullivan fired Meyer and hired Berry, the latter had some business to wrap up before joining the Patriots.

"He had to finish up some orders before he came to work," Shinnick said.

Asked why he decided to return to coaching, Berry said, typically,: "That's too personal."

THE COACH

Berry took over a 5-3 team and finished 9-7, mostly as a caretaker coach. He postponed any major changes until after the season.

Then he spent much of the off-season visiting the Patriots' non-resident players at their homes around the country, getting to know them and their families.

"He actually came to California and went to Walnut Grove," said agent Leigh Steinberg, who represents quarterback Tony Eason. "Visited with him and his parents. I've been representing players for years and I'd never heard of that before."

He also hired a receiver coach, Harold Jackson, the former Eagle and Ram who had recently retired after playing four of his twilight seasons under Berry.

"I wanted to take it easy for a couple of years," Jackson said. "I was visiting my parents in Mississippi when he called and said he had this idea about me coming up there as a receivers coach. I said I'd think about it. He hung up and called right back and said, 'I want to give you these (salary) figures to think about, too.'

"About 30 minutes later he called back again and said, 'Did you think about it?' When I got back to L.A., there was a contract waiting for me."

Jackson was left defenseless.

"In the four years I was under Coach Berry as a player, I learned more than I did in all the rest of my career," Jackson said. "He'd come to Stanley Morgan and myself and ask us, 'How do your legs feel? I want your full legs under you Sunday.' "

And, of course, there was the Silly Putty.

"We had to squeeze that putty every day we sat in those meetings," Jackson said over the phone. "I've got some right here in front of me now.

"So here I am. If I hadn't made that decision I'd be kicking myself in the butt. I played 16 years and never went to the Super Bowl."

The receivers are the only group to which Berry gives personal attention.

"He has never been in a defensive meeting yet," Shinnick said. "Our defensive coordinator, Rod Rust, had been here, and he hired two super other guys, Jimmy Carr and Ed Khayat."

Some say Berry is purposely low-key because of the volatile nature of recent Patriot coaching regimes. For years the Patriots have been known as a team that failed despite having a lot of talent.

"The big word is respect," said Shinnick, whom Berry hired a year ago.

Dick Steinberg, the Patriots' director of player development, said: "He's an unusual person. Maybe one of the things that has made him successful is he's not like a coach. The guy has no ego at all. He doesn't care anything about getting any credit for anything.

"He's just like he was as a player: meticulous. A real detail person. An excellent motivator. He does a great job of focusing all their attention on Sunday's game and not allowing them to look back or look ahead or be distracted by anything. And when he talks, they listen.

"They like him and respect him. I think they respect what he made of himself as a player. All these guys were kids and remember him . . . the stories about him practicing for hours, or how he went to NFL Films for a week and got all the film of himself to study. That's the same way he is as a coach.

"But he doesn't overcoach 'em. From the 10th game on we didn't practice on Monday or Tuesday because, he'd say, 'I want 'em fresh on Sunday.'

"The guy's hard to figure out at first because you don't know where he's coming from. But then when you've been around him you see that he just has a handle on everything, and there's a reason for everything he does."

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