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Football potpourri: fired coaches, Viking-turned-analyst, college playoff

Herein some items you might have missed or didn't have time to reflect on during the annual December/January football bombardment.

* Pro coaches have one mandate: to win. For some, however, special urgency accompanies that order, as it does now with the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams. Each team fired its head coach this week, Kansas City dumping Marv Levy and L.A. axing Ray Malavasi.

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The Chiefs were hurt by the strike perhaps more than any other team and realized they had to restore public confidence and move quickly to recoup their losses. After the strike, game attendance at 78,000-seat Arrowhead Stadium dropped off dramatically, with less than 12,000 witnessing Sunday's finale against the New York Jets.

The irony of the situation is that the Chiefs (3-6) finished strong, with two victories in their last three games, including a 37-13 pasting of the playoff-bound Jets. Yet two days later Levy was gone, even though the team had shown steady progress under him in four previous years.The club's patience had run its course. Said team president Jack Steadman, ''The fact that we didn't make the playoffs speaks for itself. Somehow you have to find a way to win.''

Meanwhile, out in Los Angeles, Rams owner Georgia Frontiere spoke of the franchise's indebtedness to Malavasi for ''some fine seasons of football.'' In 1979 he guided it to the Super Bowl, but skippered a sinking ship the last two years, when the Rams went 6-10 and 2-7.

The Rams were expecting a good year with quarterback Bert Jones arrived from Baltimore and Vince Ferragamo back from Canada. That they didn't get it hurt even more because the Raiders moved into town and compiled a shiny 8-1 record.

* NBC-TV appears to have found a potential star in Ahmad Rashad, who has announced he will retire from pro football at the end of the current season. The network introduced him on its NFL scoreboard show Sunday afternoon, when he made a strong first impression as an articulate, urbane analyst. Sports Illustrated readers couldn't have been surprised. He and writer Frank Deford collaborated to produce a player's diary for that magazine that sparkled with gems of insight.

* Penn State Coach Joe Paterno has long been an advocate of a major college football playoff. He knows from experience how subjective rankings can be, and how teams sometimes are passed over in the selection process. Achieving this season's No. 1 ranking via a Sugar Bowl victory hasn't changed his mind about a true national championship. Joe still thinks a playoff is the way to go.

What he'd like to do is use the four major bowls - Sugar, Orange, Rose, and Cotton - as part of a playoff structure. These games would produce semifinalists, who would then square off for the right to play in a championship. Instead of diluting the importance of the bowls, such a format would heighten it, he feels. And in addressing arguments against any team playing 13 or 14 games, Paterno points out that this is exactly what already happens at lower levels of competition, where Division I-AA, Division II, and Division III playoffs exist. The difference, a significant one it seems, is that these divisional playoffs begin right after the regular season ends, whereas Paterno's playoffs wouldn't really get serious until January.

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* In preparation for its first season, which begins in March, the United States Football League held a college player draft this week. The Los Angeles Express made Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino the first overall pick, which may have surprised casual fans. Marino had a rather disappointing season and was largely overshadowed by Stanford's John Elway, who finished second to Herschel Walker in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Elways's draft rights, however, belonged to the Oakland Invaders as part of a territorial system that gives each franchise first dibs on players from five colleges. Just about every franchise can draw players from one college football factory or another. The University of Pittsburgh is not in anyone's domain, though, so Marino was available to any team.

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