Commentary

Leaders of men? Uh, not quite

All too often this season, NFL coaches are losing their cool and setting poor examples

Originally Published: November 18, 2011
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

Jim Harbaugh & Jim SchwartzLeon Halip/Getty ImagesThe 49ers' Jim Harbaugh, left, and the Lions' Jim Schwartz got into a heated exchange following their Week 6 matchup. The two head coaches had to be separated.

NFL coaches are supposed to be leaders of men. They demand accountability, professionalism and, perhaps most of all, composure from their players. But at an almost comical rate this season, coaches are embarrassing themselves by losing their cool and by being swept up in the moment.

Maybe it is the pressure to succeed in an industry where a coach's shelf life is inextricably linked to his win-loss record. Maybe it is the stress of being the man essentially responsible for, in many cases, a billion-dollar company. Maybe it is the singular focus and the interminable hours, away from family and friends and perspective, searching for the slightest advantage that will expose an opponent's weakness.

Maybe it is the brutality of the sport, or the competition, or the spotlight, or the wealth and fame, or the attention and status.

There can be a thousand reasons, or maybe it is this one: It is just old-fashioned machismo, fueled by an abundance of testosterone and adrenaline.

There is coach-on-coach crime, there is coach-on-player crime, and there is my personal favorite -- coach-on-media crime -- but there is no more walking softly and carrying a big stick. There is very little winning graciously. The new normal, apparently, is coaches screaming loudly and petulantly.

Think about it. In what other industry would the CEO of one company try to chase down and confront the CEO of another company because of an overzealous handshake and slap on the back at the conclusion of a deal? Or the CEO of a company telling another company, in clear earshot of others, to do something derogatory while the other CEO tells a bystander to "go f--- yourself?"

Dick Vermeil used to get choked up in postgame press conferences. Now some coaches pound their chests, scream, vent and act like spoiled prima donnas.

It is absurd that Jim Schwartz couldn't control his emotions better after San Francisco ended his Detroit Lions' perfect season last month, and, for that matter, that Jim Harbaugh couldn't be a better winner. After Schwartz chased down Harbaugh after the game, trying to fight Harbaugh for slapping his back too hard and allegedly uttering an obscenity, Harbaugh essentially laughed at Schwartz, as if Schwartz were some scrawny kid who was pouting after losing a game against his big brother.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Bill KostrounRex Ryan has had harsh words for the Patriots, his quarterback and even a heckler.

Then there was the semiannual dustup that has become commonplace in the Jets-Patriots rivalry. The hostility between Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick reached a crescendo in Week 10, after the Patriots thumped the Jets 37-16. According to the New York Post, on the field after the game Belichick hugged his son, Stephen, and said, "Thirty-seven points on the best defense in the league ... " and then Belichick had a colorful suggestion for what the Jets could do.

"It's something I'll bring up to him after we beat them in the playoffs once again this year," Ryan said Monday.

Not that Ryan handled himself any better. At halftime, he called out his quarterback, Mark Sanchez, to Michele Tafoya on national television no less, for making "the stupidest play in NFL history." Sanchez called a timeout with 17 seconds on the play clock late in the second quarter, essentially giving the Patriots enough time to then drive down the field for a go-ahead touchdown.

Ryan was so bent that, as he walked off the field at halftime, he told a heckling fan to "go f--- yourself." As of late Thursday, one video of Ryan mouthing off had gotten more than 40,000 hits on YouTube.

"You know, this is who I am," Ryan said Monday, according to the Post. "You know, I made a mistake. You know ... I'm about as big a competitor as there is, and at that time, I was in no mood to hear anything. But I also understand that, you know, I have to handle that, you know, better."

Ryan also apologized for what he said about Sanchez, but the damage was done.

On the sideline during a Chiefs game earlier this season, Todd Haley got into a shouting match with his quarterback, Matt Cassel, that became so heated Le'Ron McClain had to separate them. Kansas City won the game, beating Minnesota for its first victory of the season, and Cassel said Haley's outburst motivated him to play better, but the image of Haley screaming at Cassel was indelible.

There is supposed to be the realization, particularly for the men in charge, that an NFL season is a marathon and not a ride on an emotional roller coaster. There is also, as Schwartz noted following his dustup with Harbaugh, supposed to be "a protocol that goes with this league." Coaches shouldn't call out players publicly, or run up the score, or swear at fans or each other.

Players get fined for everything from hitting too hard to wearing the wrong color cleats. The men who lead them should be setting an example about how to be a professional, not being an exception to the rule.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.