Jim Hanifan has been, at various times, a father figure, a mentor and a friend to Dale Nosworthy and many other of his former players.
For most of the last 45 years or so, it has been a relationship of friendship, loyalty and respect.
Such as last weekend, when Hanifan visited Coeur d'Alene to play in an annual benefit golf tournament at The Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course organized by Nosworthy for Saundra Dorosh, a longtime friend and Hayden Lake resident who was paralyzed after suffering a broken neck in a pool accident some 10 years ago.
Hanifan, who recruited Nosworthy to Utah in the 1960s, and now lives in St. Louis, came out here several years ago to play in the first tourney.
"The No. 1 thing about Jim Hanifan is ... what a loyal human being," said Nosworthy, co-owner of the popular Nosworthy's Hall of Fame restaurant in Coeur d'Alene. "In a lot of ways he was a mentor and a father figure during times in my life."
Hanifan, Nosworthy and Rod Marinelli, who also played briefly at Utah in the '60s, are all extremely close. Hanifan has been out to the Lake City a handful of times, and Nosworthy has been able to score sideline passes to games coached by Hanifan and Marinelli.
Marinelli, the former defensive coordinator at Tampa Bay and head coach of the Detroit Lions, is now defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Chicago Bears.
Hanifan, now 78, is known as one of the top offensive line coaches in the game. In the NFL, he was an assistant coach with the St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Chargers, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams, and was head coach of the St. Louis Cardinals for six seasons in the '80s.
“He (Dale) and I have always kept our friendship, and it’s always been special,” Hanifan said last week in a phone interview after returning to St. Louis. “I’m that way with a lot of my ex-players. We’ve kept these special bonds. I was their coach, so I was pretty demanding, but at the same time I realized that there was a lot more to the game and a lot more to the relationships than just the football end of the stick. These guys were young guys, just out of college themselves, so I hoped I helped them along the way, not only football wise, but life wise.”
BUT IN the early stages of the relationship between Hanifan and Nosworthy, it was a little more of tough love than of mentoring.
Hanifan recalled the recruiting weekend where Nosworthy, then a senior at Wilson High in Long Beach, Calif., visited the University of Utah. Hanifan was the offensive coordinator of sorts for the Utes, Nosworthy a highly regarded wide receiver.
“Dale was like a lot of other guys — kind of a wild young fella, and that weekend, he exceeded his boundaries, let me put it that way. And it really ticked me off,” Hanifan said. “So I decided, I’ve had it. He kept telling me, ‘I’m thinking about Oregon State, I’m thinking about Colorado,’ ... it was apparent to me that he didn’t give too much of a hoot about the University of Utah.”
On Sunday afternoon Hanifan drove Nosworthy to the airport for the flight back to Long Beach. He told the young prep star he wasn’t interested in him coming to Utah.
“I said the way you acted this weekend, I don’t want any part of that,” Hanifan said. “You go your way, and I’ll go mine. I said ‘Go to Oregon State, go to Colorado, go wherever the hell you want to go, and I wish you the best. See ya.’”
Nosworthy got on the plane, and Hanifan headed for home, thinking about what he was going to tell the head coach then next day. If asked, he said that he was going to say that the player wanted to get paid for coming to school, figuring the coach would accept that as a reason not to keep recruiting the kid.
Hanifan was home watching TV later that day when the phone rang. It was Nosworthy. The coach was expecting to hear the player give him the what for.
“Instead he said, ‘You know what? I need you. You call it the way it is,’” Hanifan recalled. “I want to have you be my coach. I need someone like you to kick me right in the (rear end). And I said ‘Well, if that’s the case, count me in, man. If you’re really honest about this, I welcome you with open arms.’”
“I had a huge head,” Nosworthy recalled at the time. “I was a Parade magazine All-American, I was being recruited by all sorts of schools. The University of Utah was the last thing on my mind.”
“It tells you a lot about Dale,” Hanifan said. “Here he was, this immature youngster, this 17-year-old kid, but by gum, he figured it out that I need somebody that’s going to tell me to shape up or ship out.”
Hanifan, for his part, thought he had stumbled onto a new way of recruiting. Until he tried that approach on the next athlete who acted like he didn’t need that school.
Except this time, the kid basically told Hanifan what he could do with his scholarship offer.
“And I thought, well, I guess it doesn’t work on everybody,” Hanifan said with a laugh.
THESE DAYS, retired from coaching, Hanifan does a few radio and TV gigs in St. Louis as a football analyst. Sometimes, he will work with college linemen preparing for the NFL draft.
He said if he were still an offensive line coach these days, he could coach the same way he did many decades ago.
“The big thing that did change, and hopefully I was a part of that, is the use of the hands,” Hanifan said. “Before, they couldn’t extend their hands, they couldn’t strike, so they would have to engage the rusher just by putting your elbows out and their fists on their chest. It was kind of an awkward, stupid situation.
“When I started coaching the offensive line at San Diego State (in 1972) I said ... we’re going to strike like a boxer. We’re going to hit guys. When I came to the NFL, we started doing it in the NFL.”
Did his linemen get accused of holding?
“We were not holding, my friend, we were not grabbing, we were striking ... them; they did not like that,” he said.
Hanifan said, even after the head slap by defensive linemen was outlawed, “we continued to strike, and they continue to today.”
Hanifan coached some of the best offensive linemen of all time — Dan Dierdorf, Orlando Pace, Jim Lachey, Russ Grimm, Joe Jacoby and Ed White, among others.
Asked who was the best he ever coached, Hanifan says the political answer is to say he’s coached several great ones. However, he did say Dierdorf was the best drive blocker he’s ever coached, and Pace was the best pass protector.
As for former St. Louis Cardinal guard Conrad Dobler, who also played for Hanifan and was once on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Pro football’s dirtiest player,” Hanifan said he was not a dirty player.
“No, he was very bright,” said Hanifan, who said he played golf with Dobler a couple of weeks ago. “What Conrad brought to the table was intensity — a great passion for the game. Guys opposite him either feared him, so he got to do whatever he wanted to do with them, or they got so psyched up for the encounter, they went bonkers and (messed) themselves over.”
Speaking of offensive linemen, Hanifan said Jerry Kramer, the former Sandpoint High, University of Idaho and Green Bay Packer star, should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “no question about it.”
“I think one of the problems is, you’ve got about eight or nine guys from that Green Bay team who are already in the Hall of Fame.
“I hope he does (get in).”
NOSWORTHY SAID there was one piece of advice he got from Hanifan that he didn’t heed.
After his junior year — he had already been moved to tight end — Hanifan left for an assistant coaching position at California.
Before he left, he told Nosworthy if he wanted to play in the NFL, he would have to move in two more positions — to guard, because of his size. A year later, some teams wanted to sign him as a lineman. But Dale liked catching passes, and opted not to make the move.
Of course, as Nosworthy notes, by not taking that advice — in addition to the cumulative pounding taken by players in the NFL — he is still able to walk around the golf course, carrying his own clubs.
“That’s worked out pretty good for me, not taking that advice,” Nosworthy said. “Hanifan is one of the most beloved guys I know. He’s just an extremely loyal human being. He doesn’t have a phony bone in his body.”
Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at CdAPressSports.