Milwaukee Talks: Mustangs head coach Bob Landsee
This year marks a milestone of sorts for Milwaukee Mustangs head coach Bob Landsee. The Michigan native first came to Wisconsin as a freshman offensive lineman for the Wisconsin Badgers in 1982, and while playing and coaching career have taken all over the country, this state has truly become home.
In his 30 years in football in Wisconsin, the Michigan native has experienced the highs of winning championships to the lows associated with injury. He has started a family here, and almost died here. Through it all, he's leaned on his family, his faith, and the game he loves.
OnMilwaukee.com caught up with Landsee after a Mustangs practice in Brookfield, where he talks about life, death, playing for Buddy Ryan and the most important contract he ever signed.
OnMilwaukee.com: You played for the Badgers for four years, from 1982 to 1985. The 1984 team finished 7-4-1 and played in a bowl game and wound up sending 16 players to the NFL, including three first round draft picks. Do you look back and wonder if that team underachieved?
Bob Landsee: I blew my knee out in '84. It was the sixth game of the year against Illinois and they were ranked in the top five and number one in the Big Ten and we had them right there at Camp Randall. It was a great game. Randy Wright threw an interception and instead of me just going and tackling the guy I decided to pick him up and tried to body slam him on the back of his head and one of our receivers came in and ducked his head and hit me with my weight and this linebacker's weight on it.
When Wisconsin (won) its first Rose Bowl victory (over UCLA) in '94, two old teammates were sitting by us and one of them was in the NFL – and he had some tears in his eyes. He said 'This should've been us.' I said 'You know what, all things gotta go in the right direction.' That year we beat Ohio State, we beat Purdue, Michigan, all in the same year, then we lose to Minnesota, tie Iowa, things that should never have happened. But, it is what it is. Things have to go right.
OMC: In 1986, the Philadelphia Eagles draft you under first-year coach Buddy Ryan, who was just coming off a Super Bowl season with the Chicago Bears. Your draft class on that team included Keith Byars, Anthony Toney, Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner.
BL: What a great class. But, the big issue was Buddy Ryan. He knew who he wanted. This guy is a – I don't know how I'm going to put it – an egotistical guy. And no matter what somebody else thought of somebody, he was drafting him. I'll be honest with you – he hit it pretty good on the head there. There are some pretty successful people that he had.
OMC: So what happened there – you look at that team with all that young talent, from Randall Cunningham to Reggie White – yet it never clicked fully?
BL: The problem became we didn't have a quarterback. My rookie year (in 1986) I snapped to three different people in the same series. On first down it was 'Jaws' (Ron Jaworski), second down was Matt Cavenaugh, now the quarterbacks coach for the Jets, and then Cunningham on third down. Buddy thought that was better because he could scramble. It became a defense-oriented thing.
He used to make us do the old 'burps', it's what they called them, up-down's. He made professional lineman do 50 of them every day just because he said we were nothing but fat people who kill grass – that's Buddy. And, hey, it worked for him for a while. But it's that one statement all the time – 'What if?' What if. What if is the right place at the right time with the right people.
OMC: You were on the Eagles team in 1988 that lost to the Chicago Bears in the famous "Fog Bowl" at Soldier Field?
BL: I got that chance to go (to the playoffs) and it was a pay kickup for me. It's funny. For me, it was a pay increase. For every other player other than the rookies who weren't the first pick it was a pay cut. So we were happy. It is what it is. It was a good time.
OMC: So in 1989, your fourth year with the Eagles, you started all four preseason games and your career looked like it was on the uptick. Then, you went in for what was supposed to be a routine cleanup of your knee. It turned out to be much more than that once they got in there.
BL: They described it to me as rice coming out of my knee.
OMC: The operation wound up ending your career?
BL: In some senses it was probably a good thing. That's what's going on today. It's the aura, being a starter in the NFL, and then all of a sudden it's done. That's the shock that's going through a lot of these guy's minds. I think, personally, they talk about a career after your football career, that's just paint overlaying it. How about starting to tell people what you're going to feel? If you've never gone through anxiety or depression, you don't know what the heck is going on. You're like, what the hell is happening? That's where the NFL Players Association needs to take over and really start to help educate these guys.
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