Randy Moss: Loved by teammates, frustrates coaches

There is Randy Moss the playmaker and Randy Moss the play

skipper.

Randy Moss the gracious and Randy Moss the petty.

Randy Moss the player’s player and Randy Moss the coach’s

scourge.

The many faces of Randy Moss include the fiery leader whose

stirring halftime speeches have spurred his teams to victory, and

the pouting malcontent who has bailed on his teammates before a

game was even over.

They also include the generous spirit who brings needy children

to amusement parks and makes their faces light up with a game ball,

and the childish bully who berated a caterer for serving a spread

”I wouldn’t feed to my (expletive) dog.”

Moss may well be the greatest receiver of his generation and yet

he’s always been one of the most polarizing players around – an

uncompromising, inscrutable individual in a game that depends on

fitting into a team’s system. It’s the basic reason he is playing

for his third club in just over a month, and the Tennessee Titans

were the only one of the league’s 32 franchises to put in a claim

for him when he hit the waiver wire last week.

”I don’t know if anybody can totally pin down who Randy Moss

is,” said Tim DiPiero, one of Moss’ first agents.

It’s hard to find a teammate who doesn’t speak highly of Moss,

despite his long history of taking plays off and boorish behavior

on the field and in the locker room. It’s also difficult to find a

coach who wouldn’t love to have a receiver with Moss’ unprecedented

combination of size (6-foot-4), speed (a 4.4. 40-yard dash), hands

and intelligence – which is why he keeps getting second

chances.

”He’s got a great heart for people who don’t have what he’s

got,” DiPiero said. ”But he has his moments that seem to get him

off track and into some problems.”

His abrupt departure from Minnesota last week shocked the

Vikings players, especially second-year receiver Percy Harvin, who

had quickly formed a bond with Moss.

Star running back Adrian Peterson called Moss ”a great

teammate” and ”cooler than an ocean breeze” despite watching him

give up on several plays in the previous game against New England,

question the coaching staff in a postgame rant and embarrass the

organization by criticizing the food offered by a local

restaurant.

”I think that all great athletes are a little different,” said

former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, who recruited Moss when he was a

high school star in West Virginia. ”But a great athlete, you have

to teach them a lot of things, how to take coaching, how to accept

his role, how to compete, things like that.”

Moss grew up with his mom and three siblings in Rand, W.Va.,

near Charleston.

When Moss was 6, he met Sam Singleton, who would become his

youth football and baseball league coach and mentor. Singleton

bought cleats for Moss, drove him to and from practice and became a

member of Moss’ exclusive inner circle.

”He’s a knucklehead,” Singleton said, laughing. ”I had a lot

of kids. He was just one of the kids. It was a community

thing.”

He also was a two-time state player of the year in basketball

and the top prep football player in 1994.

”He is the greatest athlete I have ever seen on film in high

school, bar none,” Holtz said. ”Nobody like him.”

But in a small state, he was under a microscope. And when he

made a misstep, it was magnified.

Notre Dame revoked a scholarship offer after Moss was charged

with attacking another student at DuPont High. Moss then turned to

Florida State but he never played a down. Moss violated his

probation by smoking marijuana and landed in a Charleston jail in

1996.

While Moss was locked up, DiPiero received a phone call in one

of the jail offices from Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden, who

delivered the news that Moss wouldn’t be welcomed back to

school.

”Oh gosh, it was a low time,” DiPiero said. ”That was really

hard for him.”

Rather than sit out a year, Moss walked on at then I-AA Marshall

and scored 54 touchdowns in two seasons.

”You can’t talk to any player that’s ever played with him or

been on a team with him that didn’t like Randy,” Marshall coach

Bob Pruett said. ”Randy was the Pied Piper. People followed him.

He’s very likable.”

It’s been in the same in the NFL, where has built a reputation

as virtually unstoppable – when he wants to be. He has amassed Hall

of Fame caliber numbers through 13 seasons in the league, but will

always be remembered for his ”I play when I want to play” comment

in his first stint with the Vikings.

He has been traded three times and cut once, with his talent

always proving just a little too much for the next team to

resist.

”Randy’s problem is Randy does not have a great deal of respect

for male authorities,” former Vikings receiver and Moss mentor

Cris Carter said on ESPN radio. ”If you’re wishy-washy, if you’re

not a man’s man, if you don’t shoot it to him straight, Randy Moss

is going to give you problems. He is sure enough going to give you

problems.”

He became such a problem in his second tour with the Vikings

that Brad Childress decided to cut him after just four games –

despite giving up a third-round pick to get him from the Patriots

in October.

Childress declined to get into details of his decision, calling

it ”a programatic non-fit.”

”I hate that it happened,” said Moss’ college quarterback,

Chad Pennington, whose Dolphins play Moss’ Titans on Sunday. ”I’m

sure he hates that it happened. I just hope he’s able to turn

things around these last eight games and play really well, except

for Sunday.”

Moss was his typical unreadable self at his first news

conference with the Titans on Wednesday, saying both that he

regretted how things went in Minnesota and growing combative with a

reporter who asked what they can expect from him effort-wise in

Tennessee.

”What do you expect from me effort-wise?” Moss twice barked at

the reporter, who said he didn’t know what to expect.

”I don’t know what to expect neither, next question,” Moss

said.

Moss is staunchly defended back home in West Virginia, where

they tell stories of him breaking down after helping children in

need and showing up unannounced to do autograph signings to help

raise money for local charities at their events.

”Randy’s always lived in a fish bowl,” DiPiero said. ”He

always doesn’t come across as real open. He lets his guard down

when he’s around kids. But around adults that he doesn’t know, he’s

very cautious.

”When you get to know him, he’s funny. That’s why his teammates

like him so much, because he’s a character. He’s funny. He gets

people pumped up. He’s competitive. And he’s hilarious.”

Childress isn’t laughing. His unilateral decision to cut Moss

drew the ire of some players and put him in a precarious position

with team ownership as the Vikings (3-5) try to salvage their

season.

Moss, on the other hand, has been welcomed warmly by coach Jeff

Fisher and the Titans, in yet another fresh start in a career that

may be running out of them.

”You never know what the future holds,” the 33-year-old Moss

said. ”Right now I’m a Tennessee Titan. I’m here to do whatever

coach Fisher wants me to do.”

AP Sports Writers John Raby in West Virginia, Steven Wine in

Miami, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn. and Howard Ulman in

Boston, and freelance writer Mark Bradford in South Bend, Ind.,

contributed to this story.