Cocaine found on an NFL coach? That's a new one. But that's what the headline screamed a couple weeks back: Cocaine Found in Wayne Fontes' Car.
Then, suddenly, maybe not. On Monday, a district judge threw out the cocaine-possession charge against Fontes, saying his car had been illegally searched by police, who found a vial of cocaine there.
Fontes, the Detroit Lions defensive coordinator who still faced two drunk-driving charges, jumped for joy. He called his older brother, Len, a member of the New York Giants coaching staff. And he called his mentor, former Tampa Bay coach John McKay. "It's over," he told them.
Len Fontes said in an interview later Monday: "His name has been ruined. . . . Every newspaper in the country made him look to be a drug-runner. Oh, that's not the word I'm looking for, but something to that effect. It's terrible. He's innocent . . . yet, the damage has been done."
In other words, there's no telling whether this will prevent Wayne Fontes from landing an NFL head-coaching job. Under McKay in Tampa, he built a head-hunting defense, and he was thought to be a logical replacement for Darryl Rogers if Rogers couldn't turn around the Lions this year.
Fontes isn't the only member of the Lions confronting the possibility that his reputation has been damaged. Recently a network television report centered on rookie defensive end Reggie Rogers, younger brother of Don Rogers, the former Cleveland Browns safety who died a cocaine-induced death the night before he was to be married in 1986.
Last Friday, Reggie Rogers was placed on the "reserve non-football illness list," which means he can't play for at least 30 days, and Will McDonough reported Sunday on CBS that his absence is drug-related.
The Lions deny this. They say Rogers has emotional problems, resulting perhaps from relatives pressuring him for money. His younger sister, Jackie, recently came to stay with him in Detroit and disappeared for four days. He had to skip practice one day to look for her. Meanwhile, his mother, Loretha, was ill.
During the NFL strike, Reggie Rogers went to Seattle to see his old college friends at the University of Washington. Don James, his coach, remembers Rogers' visiting the football office one day.
"He said 40 relatives were trying to get money from him," James said this week. "That really troubled him. He sat in the office explaining how he couldn't give it to them. They didn't realize that a lot of his money was deferred."
In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Reggie Rogers called the CBS report "a lie."
So with the Fontes and Rogers episodes, the Lions have more problems than just the Washington Redskins today. The Lions (2-6) must also contend with a serious distraction--the subject of cocaine.
A lot of people think Wayne Fontes is a terrific guy. During the strike, for instance, his brother Len says Wayne lent his car to a couple of replacement players, which was beyond the call of duty. He's also a terrific dad. He let his daughter, a student at Michigan State, borrow the car, too. "Just bring it back in one piece," he told them.
Getting the car back was only the beginning of Fontes' troubles. His brother, Len, says he wanted to know what happened before the police found the cocaine in the car, so he asked.
"He told me he was drinking and he went in a ditch," Len Fontes said. "He asked his wife to pick him up, because he didn't want to be there when the (automobile) got found, because he was drunk. . . . I mean, he was trying get the DWI charge quieted, and three days later, they say they've found cocaine in a bottle."
According to the police report, Fontes got out of his car after the accident in Rochester Hills, Mich., and walked to a gas station. Observers told police he was "hyper" and "staggering." He phoned his wife.
She came by in their second car, got out and Fontes climbed in when he saw a police car arrive. He drove off, but the policeman pulled him over (thus, a second drunk-driving charge).
According to the police report, the officer observed the odor of intoxication and said Fontes spoke in a "slurred" manner. Fontes admitted being in the accident, but he claimed his son had been driving. Asked where his son was, Fontes said he was back at the car with Fontes' wife.
In the meantime, other officers found no sign of Fontes' son. Fontes' wife, Evelyn, said their son was in Florida, and then eyewitnesses kept saying Fontes had been driving alone. At this point, Fontes changed his story, police say. He said neither he nor his son had been driving, but that a "phantom" had been driving, according to the report.
They booked him.
Deputy Andrew Sparks stayed behind to supervise the towing of Fontes' wrecked car. According to Sparks, several people at the gas station suggested Fontes might have been using drugs. The police report says Sparks went back to the car and found a controlled substance that turned out to be cocaine.
But, because he had searched the car without a warrant, the cocaine charge had to be thrown out.
McKay--who says Fontes has been like a son to him--said he could not believe Fontes would use cocaine.
"The one part (the drunk driving) could happen to a lot of people," McKay said. "That didn't faze me. But I knew (the cocaine) couldn't be true. I mean, if that were true, there would've been indications years ago. He's not even much of a drinker."
The Lions front office is waiting to see what happens on the drunk-driving charges before it makes a statement. And Fontes--who says, "I'm just getting ready for the Redskins"--also declined comment.
But Len, his brother, said: "It was very tough on all of us, all the phone calls. Everywhere I'd go, whether it was Dallas or New England, everybody came up to say something. I mean, we know everybody in football. I had to explain it to everybody. And my own (Giants) players would wrap their arms around me. They'd say, 'Anything we can do? You need money?' It was too late, really. Like I've said, the damage was done."