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Ray Perkins may be gone, but the out-of-tune melody lingers on with the Tampa Bay Bucs.

The latest forecast for the Bucs' future comes from owner Hugh Culverhouse, who, when asked if he were finally going to hire a general manager to help him choose a new head coach, replied: "I don't need a general manager. I know the coaches."

That is from an owner whose team has lost 70 percent of its games under his 15-year stewardship. Culverhouse has had just three winning seasons, one of them in strike-shortened 1982, when the Bucs were 5-4. That was followed by three 2-14 seasons.

When Culverhouse hired Perkins in 1987, he predicted that Perk "will be my Vince Lombardi and the Bucs will be the team of the '90s."

When Perkins was fired Monday, his record after 60 games was 19-41, for a percentage of .316. By beating Atlanta in his last game, he avoided having the worst coaching record in NFL history. Only Bill McPeak, who compiled a 21-46-3 record and .313 winning percentage with the Redskins from 1961-65, was worse.

Perkins might even have stayed longer except that an Orlando columnist wrote that the coach had told him privately that Culverhouse and his son hadn't spoken to him in two weeks and he feared he would be fired. Culverhouse then obliged.

Perkins not only coached poorly, alienated fans and the press, and torpedoed morale in the organization, he also refused to hire either an offensive coordinator or a quarterback coach.

That is the main reason Vinny Testaverde has foundered since he turned pro. The guidance he got from Perkins wasn't enough. Compounding that problem, Perkins traded the Bucs' 1992 first-round draft choice to Indianapolis for quarterback Chris Chandler, who did little in three games in which he replaced Testaverde.

What Culverhouse does understand is money. He is one of the nation's foremost tax lawyers. That might have done in Perkins. At Perkins' urging, Culverhouse signed Alabama linebacker Keith McCants to a five-year, $6 million contract. McCants didn't start a game until last Sunday. He has been one of the NFL's major rookie disappointments.

Burt fires up Niners

Word around the NFL is that the altercation between Giant quarterback Phil Simms and 49er safety Ronnie Lott at the end of Monday night's game was the result of a Jim Burt prank.

Burt, the Orchard Park native with the Huck Finn sense of humor, is said to have fired up his 49er defensive teammates with tales about Simms' supposed mouthing off about how he planned to tear them apart.

Simms, a friend of Burt's from their days together on the Giants, never said any such thing, but the 49ers bought the tale anyway.

After Simms passed incomplete on the fourth-down play that killed the Giants' final chance to win, Lott walked up to the quarterback and accused him of choking. The emotional Simms flared up and the two butted heads.

After the game, Simms and Lott clashed again on the field. In the middle of it, trying to act as peacemaker, was Burt.

Simms was so upset about the incident that, after he dressed, he walked over to the Niners' dressing room and talked it out with Lott in the training room.

The two, friendly at past Pro Bowls, parted relatively amicably.

Seifert worried about run

The 49ers, despite their 7-3 victory, are worried about their lack of a running game.

Asked if he thought the Niners could reach another Super Bowl with their current running attack, coach George Seifert answered candidly, "I don't know. It would be tough."

The Niners are getting ex-Bill Fred Smerlas ready for the stretch run, since four of their defensive linemen are playing hurt. Smerlas won't be activated for today's Cincinnati game, but the expectation is that he'll be in uniform for the last few games and the playoffs.

Courting big bucks

New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert sat out the season in a contract dispute, but he's fired up about the prospect of a court case.

"Bobby's looking for big damages in antitrust," says his agent, Greg Campbell. "He can prove $2 million in damages alone."

Campbell calls Saints GM Jim Finks "a power freak."

"The whole story is about one vindictive person who wants to rub the system in your nose and jam it down your throat. He's punishing Bobby . . . but he'll pay for it."

He did what?

Raider nose tackle Bob Golic roomed with Giants tight end Mark Bavaro at Notre Dame. Golic reacted in disbelief when he heard Bavaro had been ejected from the Giants' loss to Philadelphia for knocking field judge Mark Hamilton to the ground.

"I couldn't believe that it happened," said Golic. "I was shocked. That is not like him. It's those quiet ones you have to worry about. They snap and then they can become mass murderers."

Wearing out welcome

Linebacker Jimmy Williams raged his way out of Detroit last week after he threatened the Lions' respected defensive coordinator, Woody Widenhofer.

It began when Williams smashed Chicago quarterback Jim Harbaugh across the face with a forearm, long after Harbaugh had released his pass. Williams received a roughing-the-passer penalty, not unusual for him.

On the next play, Williams blew a pass coverage and Widenhofer pulled him out of the game. When he reached the sideline, he had to be restrained from going after the coach. In the dressing room at halftime, it started again. Williams showered Widenhofer with obscenities and tried to charge him.

The next day, head coach Wayne Fontes put Williams, considered an able player, on waivers. Minnesota claimed him.

"I benched Joe Greene, I benched Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, all Hall of Famers," said Widenhofer, who was defensive coordinator of Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain.

"They didn't like it, but they accepted it and came back to play better."

Strange farewell for Farrell

Sean Farrell, the New England Patriots' highly regarded veteran guard, ended up with the Denver Broncos via a strange waiver transaction last week.

The Patriots exposed him to a claim when they tried to get him through waivers in order to activate him.

"I really don't know why the Patriots did what they did," said Farrell.

Patriot insiders say that coach Rod Rust wanted help for his beleaguered team and he, along with others in the organization, suspected that Farrell's injured shoulder was well enough for him to play and that Sean just didn't want any part of the team's horrible season.

Rust took the calculated risk without hesitation. Farrell, incidentally, was in uniform last Sunday for Denver's game against the Raiders.

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