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No team is analyzing the work of NFL coaches, as well as selected college coaches, more closely than the Houston Texans, who don't start play until the 2002 season. They'll hire their first head coach as soon as this season is over.

Owner Bob McNair and General Manager Charley Casserly want a pro coach who has had experience as an NFL head man, or a college head coach who has NFL experience.

That eliminates even the best of the NFL's coordinators except for one -- Gregg Williams of the Tennessee Titans. The reason Williams gets an exemption is that he has been with the team since 1990, when Jack Pardee was the head coach and they were known as the Houston Oilers. Buddy Ryan was Pardee's defensive coordinator then, with Jeff Fisher, now the Titans' head coach, as his trusted aide.

Fisher was the team's last head coach during its final seasons in Houston. Either he or Wade Phillips of the Bills, both extremely popular in Houston, would be the Texans' choice as head coach if they weren't under contract. With them unavailable, Williams represents a line back to Oilers' success.

The most obvious candidate among NFL coordinators is Dom Capers, who runs the defense for Jacksonville. Capers was the head coach of the Carolina Panthers when they made their meteoric leap to near the top of the NFC as an expansion franchise. He is somewhat invisible under the smothering hand of Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin, but NFL insiders still have great respect for what he did in Carolina.

Among college head coaches, the most frequently mentioned names in the Texans' inner sanctum are Butch Davis of Miami, Nick Saban of LSU and Tyrone Willingham of Stanford, which just stunned Texas last week.

Ron Turner, who has Illinois on the way back in the Big Ten, is a possibility. Dennis Erickson, the ex-Seattle Seahawks' coach now at Oregon State, reportedly has his drinking problem under control and could be a dark-horse candidate.

Among the most prominent candidates is Marty Schottenheimer, ex-head coach in Kansas City and Cleveland, who took a year off from coaching and may be ready to return to the right team. An expansion franchise may not be Schottzy's idea of the right team.

The wild card is Bill Cowher, who is expected to be bagged in Pittsburgh unless the Steelers turn their season around. McNair supposedly likes Cowher, but six months ago Cowher won an "It's-either-him-or-me" ultimatum over the Steelers' former director of football, Tom Donahoe. Cowher wanted to run the personnel department and hasn't done a good job of it. Casserly runs the personnel department in Houston and isn't about to give it up.

'Boys will be boys

Jimmy Johnson is retired on his boat somewhere in the Florida Keys, but his attitude lives on.

At the end of pregame warmups in Washington last Monday night, Dallas linebacker Darren Hambrick got into a battle with several Redskins, bringing a posse of Cowboys to his rescue.

It did not displease the Cowboys' rookie coach, Dave Campo.

"I like to think that the football team is an extension of the coaching staff," explained Campo. "I'm an emotional person. I played the game that way (as a defensive back at Central Connecticut State). I try to coach it that way and hopefully our guys respond.

"I'm not condoning fighting. But the way our players reacted to that scuffle showed me something."

That's how the University of Miami teams of the late '80s sometimes began a game. Campo is a former Johnson aide at Miami, when thuggery was the Hurricanes' identity.

Deion without the neon

One of the negative hallmarks of Washington's poor start is that opposing teams, whose passers used to avoid Deion Sanders' territory, are now going right after the 33-year-old cornerback.

"Deion's human now," explained Germane Crowell, the Detroit receiver who burned Sanders in the Lions' victory over the Redskins.

Moss gathers few friends

Minnesota's Randy Moss is approaching recognition as the NFL's best receiver, but he's already at the top when it comes to trash talking.

"I have been playing a while and I have never seen anyone so cocky," said Miami linebacker Robert Jones. "I have no respect for him as a player or a person."

Modell backers lobby Hall voters

The Ravens' front office is pushing its boss, controversial owner Art Modell, for the Hall of Fame. In a letter to electors, signed by Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Ozzie Newsome, it's asked that Modell's moving of the Browns out of Cleveland be put aside and Modell be elected anyway.

After a five-year lapse, Modell's name is back on this year's nomination list for the Hall. So is Ralph Wilson's name. Modell vs. Wilson? No contest.

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