Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
When Raymond Berry, the perennial football player of the Baltimore Colts, called it quits at the age of 34, there was one thing and one thing only he didn’t want to do with the rest of his adult life: coach.
“The coaching profession is one of the most stupid, unpredictable, and illogical professions there is,” Berry said. “I saw great coaches get fired because of coming into an injury ridden season, and the people in charge don’t know their butt from first base about coaching football. It never appealed to me to get into a profession that you knew you were going to get fired.”
But when high powers came into play, Berry couldn’t say no.
“I’m also a Christian and I said ‘God, what do you want me to do?'”
To Berry, the answer was “coach.”
So in 1968, not even a year after hanging up the cleats, Berry became a coach. He started out as a receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys. For the next 13 years, Berry would coach his old position, making five stops along the way. Eventually, in 1978, Berry wound up New England.
“I ended being a receivers coach [at New England] when Chuck Fairbanks was the head coach there,” Berry said. “I was there three years under Chuck as an assistant coach, and then as usual, the staff got fired.”
Berry admitted at that point that he was sick of the coaching business. He didn’t want to pick up his now family and move for a new job, so he stayed in Boston and looked for opportunities outside of football. It wasn’t too long after that he landed a job working at his brother-in-law’s business in Murfreesboro.
Berry made a living servicing costumers on the east coast for three years before receiving a phone call in 1984 from the Patriots Owner, Billy Sullivan. The team had recently fired Ron Meyer and instead of turning to an offensive or defensive coordinator to take over, they chose to go after Berry.
However, the decision wasn’t a no-brainer for the NFL Hall of Fame.
“[Sullivan] said ‘Raymond, we’re offering you the head coaching job. Will you take it?’,” Berry remembered. “I said ‘let me call you tomorrow.'”
But after further prayer, Berry was lead once more to get back into the game that defined him.
Berry said once he got there, he realized he didn’t know but a handful of players and just one coach on staff.
“You say to yourself, ‘well we have six or eight games left. Since you don’t know anybody, or since you don’t know anything, what are you going to do as a head coach on the day of the game?'”
Berry said he told the coaching staff that on the day of his first game against the New York Jets, he really only felt comfortable deciding if they were going to kickoff, receive, punt, or go for two after touchdowns. He said he really let his assistants run the show on game days.
Berry’s team would win 30-20 in his debut, going on to win four of their last eight games of the season.
Berry was quick to point out that his team was not as bad as their record, but rather that their prior coach was a fraud.
“It was a physiological situation in which Ron Myer, the head coach, was a college coach who had come into the NFL because he had a tremendous reputation at Southern Methodist,” Berry said. “Well if you look closely at his reputation, it came because he cheated like crazy recruiting.”
Berry said that while Myer was successful at SMU, he had no clue how to be a head coach. He said that it really didn’t show until he was brought to Boston after Berry’s old coaching staff was fired in ’81.
Soon enough, the players found out their coach was unfit for the NFL. In return, they stopped playing for him.
But Berry realized from that very first game what his team was capable of doing.
“I’m out there during the game watching this team and start realizing…good grief. This team has all the pieces in the world to win a word championship,” Berry said.
From day one, Berry gained respect of the players by simply believing in them, a trait that he got from his father.
“That realization came as a direct result of being raised by my dad,” said Berry. “One of his great strengths was that when he saw capability in a player, they were going to hear from him about what they can do. He was always in the process of telling a team what they could do. He never dealt with telling a team what they can’t do.”
Berry adopted his father’s philosophy and rode it throughout his coaching career. Only 14 months later, Berry would lead his team to the playoff as a wild card selection. At that period in time, no team from the wild card spot had ever made it to the Super Bowl, simply because they would have to win three straight road matchups to do so.
The 1985 New England Patriots did just that, knocking off the New York Jets, LA Raiders and the Miami Dolphins en route to the franchise’s first ever appearance in a Super Bowl. The greatness of their accomplishments during that postseason were unparalleled. However, one giant stood in their way of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy… the Chicago Bears.
Coached by Mike Ditka, the Bears had size, speed, veterans and everything else needed to take home a title.
Super Bowl 20 was an oddity in many fashions. For one, no NFL Championship or Super Bowl winning player had ever won the Big Game as a head coach. Both Berry and Ditka had Championship/Super Bowl rings.
Another fact was that Berry was an assistant with the Cowboys team under Tom Landry, a squad that featured tight end Mike Ditka.
By 1988, both were inducted into the Hall of Fame, making Super Bowl 20 the first game to be coached by Hall of Famers.
In the end, Super Bowl 20 had everything fans would want, except for a close game.
In that particular season, the Bears were a force to be reckoned with. It was a process for Mike Ditka’s Bear’s that started three season’s prior. Berry said this was key in the lopsided final score of 46-10.
“The overriding factor of Super Bowl 20 was the fact that in training camp of 1985, we had installed our offense and our defense for the first time,” Berry said. “Whenever you do that, you have to take two or three steps and let it go at that.”
“What you do is, you take a few steps the first year and then you take a few steps the next year, and then by the third year, you pretty well feel like you’ve got most of what you’re trying to get done.”
The Bears also had the best defense in the NFL during the ’85-’86 season, one that Berry thinks deserves all the praise they get.
“What you have is an A, B, and I’m not even sure you go C. And that is what we put on the field against the Chicago Bears,” he said. “We had an A/B offense against a PHD defense.”
Nevertheless, Berry stays to this day believing that his team was just as talented.
“Had we been together five or six years, it would have been a close game, but there’s no question in my mind we would’ve beat them.”
For the next four seasons, Berry would remain as the face of the franchise before being let go in 1989. After brief stints with the Detroit Lions and the Denver Broncos, there would be no return to football for the NFL legend. His time with the NFL was over, and he was okay with that.
“Have you heard that song ‘free at last, free at last?,'” Berry asked. “I think there’s some song like that. That’s about the way you feel when you get out of coaching.”
But even though Berry left the NFL, the NFL could never leave Berry. In the years to follow, he would soon find out just how much of an impact he left on the sport of football.
Check back tomorrow for part four of the four-part series “Raymond Berry: Murfreesboro’s link to pro football’s Big Game” where we talk about Berry’s move to Murfreesboro, as well as his participation in Super Bowl 46.