Commentary

Unprofessional response to refs

Coaches are supposed to lead, and some are not doing a good job

Updated: September 25, 2012, 3:41 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

No one would have blamed Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy if he had lost his composure following the game Monday night against the Seahawks and had given the public a legendary viral moment.

Had he cursed out every official on the field after one of the most ghastly officiating errors in NFL history, he probably would have been a hero in every corner of the country.

Had he told his players not to bother returning to the field for the extra point -- which came after a bogus, game-winning Hail Mary touchdown that across the Internet is being referred to as the "Touchception" -- there would have been a strong swell of support for such a justified protest.

But instead of compounding inexcusable incompetency with misbehavior, the no-nonsense McCarthy acted like a total professional in his postgame news conference.

[+] EnlargeMike McCarthy
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenIf the Packers don't recover after Monday night's controversial loss, history suggests their playoff hopes could be in trouble.

He first stated that he wouldn't be addressing the officiating. He took blame for the Packers' inept offensive performance in their 14-12 loss, and generally conducted his news conference as if his team had merely lost a game instead of having been cheated of a victory.

In fact, the most colorful statement that McCarthy made about the "Monday Night Football" laughingstock was this: "I've never seen anything like that in all my years in football. Most unusual football game that I've been a part of."

That reaction, under such unimaginable, stressful circumstances is the definition of class, maturity and most importantly, professionalism.

In other words, that's how a coach is supposed to behave.

Now compare McCarthy's reaction to how Bill Belichick responded after his Patriots lost 31-30 to the Ravens on a last-second field goal.

Big difference.

In Belichick's case, the winning field goal initially looked as if it had missed the mark. But video evidence later supported that it was the right call.

Let me repeat: The right call.

However, that didn't stop Belichick from angrily chasing down a referee and making physical contact with him as he hurriedly left the field. Some have tried to argue that Belichick sought the official because he was looking for an explanation. But judging by the coach's body language and irate expression, Belichick was looking for a confrontation, not an explanation.

"You saw the game," Belichick grumbled in his postgame news conference. "What did we have, 30 penalties called in that game?"

Not quite -- it was 24. And maybe Belichick should have directed his surliness at his team, which failed to make plays down the stretch on both sides of the ball. Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady, who mustered just 41 passing yards in the fourth quarter.

There's no question the performance of these replacement refs has gravitated between inconsistent and plain awful.

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
AP Photo/Joe HowellMatt Hasselbeck gave head linesman Michael Wilmoth an earful.

Certainly the biggest issue with these referees is that they don't exert more authority in games. Often, they have looked overwhelmed and intimidated. They have thrown flags based on the players and coaches' emotional reactions instead of trusting their instincts and sticking with their decisions.

But is it fair to blame the officials because players and coaches don't know how to conduct themselves?

We saw plenty of players pushing and shoving during the Ravens-Patriots game. And after Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno fumbled the ball Sept. 17 during another "Monday Night Football," the game was delayed several minutes as the players got into a scrum, and some even made contact with the officials. It was chaos.

It says something that the coaches and players think it's fair game to take advantage of the situation, and it's even more shameful that they seem to be using the officials to absolve themselves of responsibility. NFL coaches are constantly preaching accountability to their players, and how important it is to exemplify leadership in any circumstance.

They want the officials to make them act like grown men -- something they should be doing regardless.

But that's not the message that's sent when they treat the officials so disrespectfully. By acting out of control, coaches are empowering their players to behave the same way.

The NFL sent out a letter demanding that coaches and players behave more professionally toward the refs. And now the league is trying to send its own strong message by fining coaches for their actions.

The NFL fined Denver coach John Fox $30,000 and sanctioned his defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio $25,000 for being verbally abusive toward officials during a loss to Atlanta.

The league is reviewing Belichick's conduct as well as the incident involving Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who reportedly chased the officials into a tunnel yelling obscenities because he was whistled for a 15-yard penalty in the game for -- get this -- berating officials.

In fairness, the referees incorrectly took 10 seconds off the clock and indicated the game was over after a Redskins false start penalty as the team was making a last-ditch effort to come back against Cincinnati. Kyle Shanahan ran out on the field to address the mishandled clock situation, and while the officials eventually got things right, Shanahan wasn't satisfied. He apparently wanted his verbal pound of flesh.

Watching the officials have these constant meltdowns has been a frustrating experience, but that doesn't give coaches and players the right to practice situational professionalism.

Jemele Hill | email

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