Football Coaches Bring Baggage with Them

By Pollack, Joe | St. Louis Journalism Review, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Football Coaches Bring Baggage with Them


Pollack, Joe, St. Louis Journalism Review


Most of us carry some sort of baggage, both emotional and physical, and when we move from job to job, or from city to city, we take all the former and some of the latter with us, then try to find a home large enough for all of it.

But no one seems to tote a bigger load than football coaches. When Larry Smith took over at Mizzou a few years ago, he brought a lot of people with him. Some have started to drift away. And the Rams have undergone a series of major changes. All was sweetness and light among Dick Vermeil's way-too-large staff, or so it was reported in the sycophantic St. Louis press. Then Vermeil saw a rainbow in the Super Bowl sky, and followed it, and quit coaching before the ink was dry on his checks. In my opinion, this was a wise choice, and I applaud Vermeil for returning to relative peace and quiet before things began to change. In truth, with dynasties becoming dinosaurs in professional sports, there was no way for Vermeil to equal-- much less surpass--his success of 1999.

But suddenly, with the elevator ride of Mike Martz--up to the head man's suite, down from the coaches' booth where he made decisions almost in a vacuum--to the sideline, where noise and confusion reign and someone else will be yelling in his ear, as he used to yell at Vermeil--the tuneful happiness of Munchkin-land has been invaded by the Wicked Witch.

I'm not sure whether it's just old friendships, or promises made in the throes of celebration, but a Rams' coaching staff that had feasted primarily on Philly Cheese Steaks now is shifting its taste buds toward Washington Senate Bean Soup. I think it's all part of head coaches' paranoia. They have to surround themselves with old friends, most just a step above sycophancy, to protect themselves from such outside threats as owners, media and fans.

Head coaches will talk about having assistants they can talk with, assistants who understand the boys-club-in-a-treehouse language known as coach-speak, who will be "on the same page in the play book."

Stuff and nonsense!

There is a finite number of players, a finite number of directions in which they can run, of holes they can run through. Whether you number the holes even and odd outward from the center, or whether you number across the line, from left to right or from right to left, the total is the same. If you call a pass route a "fly" or a "rocker" or an "arrow," the receiver is going the same way, at the same speed, and no matter what color you use to denote the formation, you still have to have seven men on the line of scrimmage.

Designing a play book is far less intricate than designing a computer program, and drawing up a pass route is much easier than drawing from life.

But coaches are a funny breed, and their ego and paranoia grow as they earn more money, become more famous and, most of all, discover they can make a buck as a motivational speaker. At that point, it's Katie-bar-the-door.

"We all speak the same language," says the head coach. He means, "We all speak my language, from my throat. I am the empowered one. I have control. Total control."

Some head coaches forbid their assistants from speaking to the press. Most would keep locker rooms and practice fields closed--and locked-- except for the fact that the NFL won't allow it.

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