Friday, September 28, 2007

Behavior of NFL Coaches: controversial

Moderately Cerebral Bias conceived a blog series called "Controversial or Not." In the first installment, MCB argued that Tiki Barber is not controversial, and The Serious Tip declared Randy Moss to be not controversial.

This post is a part of this series. For more, see The Serious Tip on why Daniel Snyder should be more controversial, and Moderately Cerebral Bias on why Jesus should be a controversial NFL figure.

NFL players are sometimes controversial. If a player yells at an official, at a teammate, at a coach, we’re supposed to judge him as selfish or childish. If a player questions the authority of the coach in any way, it becomes a controversial subject for the media and fans. Somehow, it’s on Michael Vick and Terrell Owens to be role models to children, and if they fail, shame on them.

But what about NFL coaches?

Coaches are controversial for how they coach and the decisions they make, but their general behavior is generally held as non-controversial. For some reason, it’s not on coaches to set good examples for children. But let’s look at the examples some NFL coaches are setting.

Authority Figures Can Berate Their Underlings.
Tom Coughlin screams at his players in a demeaning, abusive way. Jon Gruden grimaces at mistakes by his players, as if the player personally affronted Gruden. Coaches can yell at players, can complain about player performance to the media, can act as mean-spirited despots if they choose. Is that what kids should see? Authority figures are absolute monarchs over their realm, and can tyrannically eviscerate those under their authority?

Authority Figures Can Pass Blame and Avoid Responsibility.
I’ll never forget the ending of the Titans-Steelers playoff game in 2003 (after the 2002 season). A questionable roughing the kicker penalty was partly responsible for the Titans defeating the Steelers. As the game ended, the officials were jogging off the field. Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher (widely respected by the media) ran down the field. He ran to stand in front of the head referee. He screamed into his face, pointing and yelling. At the press conference after the game, Cowher talked about how sick it was to have a game end like that. It wasn’t his fault and it wasn’t his team’s fault: the officials screwed him over. And now he can yell and berate those officials, he can complain about it, he can pass blame onto another source. When players try to pass blame, they are criticized for failing to take responsibility for their actions. Coaches do it all the time, and are generally still respected. Again, is this what we want to see? Authority figures responding to failure with screaming anger, and blaming others for their own failures?

Authority Figures Can Treat Others As Less Than Human.
Watch old press conference footage of Bill Parcells or Mike Ditka or a whole host of other NFL coaches. They yell at the members of the media. They dismiss them. They demean them. They evade their questions. Generally, they are allowed to treat members of the media with total disdain, as a sub-human species unworthy of the slightest politeness, dignity, or respect. Of course, if players are rude to members of the media, they become sources of constant criticism. Coaches generally do it and get away with it. Again, is this what we want kids to see? That when they reach a position of power, they don’t have to respect other human beings anymore? They have power and authority, and now they have the right to treat people like crap?

I’m not trying to be the morality police, running around telling everybody how to act and how their behavior is influencing children. But a lot of announcers, commentators, and writers (those who play a major role in driving controversy) are. When players complain, they’re judged. When players are rude, they’re judged (think about Peter King praising draft prospects for calling reporters “sir”—he expects players to be polite to him). When players express themselves, in anger or in joy, they’re judged. Essentially, when players act like coaches act all the time, they get criticized for it.

Certainly coaches and players are in different roles, and different behavior is required and expected for each role. But why does that particular role affect the acceptance of the player or coach complaining about calls, berating each other publicly, or dismissing the media? The role really shouldn’t matter: part of this is just human decency. But we treat the players as controversial, and pretty much ignore the coaches.

The behavior of coaches should be more controversial than it is—especially in a context when almost all player behavior is controversial.


  1. Good point about the players, PV. I'm intrigued that all three of us who posted so far have not chosen a player as being controversial. Fact is, most players are judged fairly strictly already. It's the other personalities in the game like coaches and owners that avoid judgment.

  2. Anonymous3:30 PM

    Well, PV, I've seen plenty of criticism of Gruden and Coughlin for their lack of self control, although there was far less of it when they both had lost fewer games. I have no problem with a player or coach ripping officials for blatantly bad calls, and I can't think of a player who has been singled out for doing so. Also, I have no problem with coaches or players treating the media in a somewhat hostile manner, as long as it is done wittily. The sports media to me is so frequently unfair to players and coaches that I can't severely fault guys who give a little back, but I do want it to be done well. To me, the Parcells press conferences were flat out funny, the Ditka ones not so much. Given it's all trivial entertainment, I guess the standard for me is: Was it entertaining?

  3. When it comes to Parcells demeaning the media, they're crying all the way to the typewriter. I have no doubt some writers intentionally ask pointed questions hoping to get a rise out of these guys. It manufactures a story where there is not one. And I'm not criticizing them for doing it - I think the coaches are stupid for taking the bait.