Every day I’m thankful to be a sports columnist. Call me a coward or call me smart, but I’m not going where other Free Press columnists have trod into the arena of presidential politics.

It has been said that in the department store of human affairs, sports is the toy department. I figure that if we’re going to spin our wheels discussing political candidates, we might as well have some fun and ponder how the candidates would fare in the toy department.

George W. Bush and John Kerry want to lead our country for the next four years, but inquiring minds and columnists who need to fill valuable space on the sports page wonder which man would make a better football coach.

In some circles, a good football coach is more important than a good commander in chief. That view may be disconcerting to some, but there’s a reason why presidential debates aren’t held on weekends- college and pro football games would draw bigger audiences.

Being president or a football coach demands leadership, and the ability to communicate, make decisions and remain strong under pressure.

Bush and Kerry might argue that their experiences in athletics more than 30 years ago would make them more highly qualified to coach football, but they would soon discover that football fans are more concerned with the here and now.

Bush might have an advantage being from Texas, where football is practically a religion, although details of his athletic career are vague due to incomplete records.

On the flip side, I understand Kerry has played ice hockey, a sport that rivals football in its physical style of play. Kerry would empathize more with injured players since he suffered more injuries than Bush during his athletic career.

I suspect that Bush would be a no-nonsense coach. He’d institute a “No Player Left Behind” program requiring student-athletes to meet certain academic and athletic standards in order to be on the team.

He would develop a game plan and stick with it right or wrong. He wouldn’t care what people think on sports talk shows.

I can see a scenario in which Bush would emphasize the running game, although he wouldn’t hesitate to throw the bomb. It would be good ol’ fashioned smash-mouth football, running the ball straight ahead.

Even if the play gained little or no yardage on 10 consecutive tries, he would not be easily discouraged.

If players or the fans complain about the play selection, Bush likely would respond, “We have scouted our opponent. We know their weaknesses.

” We don’t need to change strategy. We only need to execute it better and stay the course. So we’re going to go out there and run that play again and again until we get it right.”

Kerry also would have a plan, but no one, including Kerry, would know what the plan is. His team would be open to changing and flexible game plans.

One game might find Kerry’s team throwing the ball a lot. The next game his team would run the ball more.

I can envision Kerry’s team receiving numerous delay-of-game penalties due to indecision. He would send a player onto the field with a play, only to change his mind and send another player into the game with another play.

Kerry would likely adopt a pay-to-play philosophy. You don’t play if you don’t pay.

He also would try to have a parents and fans test to try and gain support for who should get more playing time. He’d try not to offend anyone. And if he decided to throw the bomb, he would check first with League of United Coaches to make sure that he had their permission.

If a Bush or Kerry team was losing at halftime, both would have trouble developing or articulating a specific plan to turn the game around.

Upon further review I think it’s unmistakably clear that whoever loses on Election Day should try to find work doing something other than coaching football.

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