As I have written about before, there is a new double standard in sports. On the one hand, it’s wrong for players to criticize coaches, a violation of the fundamental principles of authority and of talking “man-to-man” with whomever it is you have a problem, rather than publicly airing your grievances. On the other, there seems to be no such constraint on coaches criticizing players. Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin, emblematic of this double standard, was very upset with Tiki Barber after the Giants week ten loss on Monday night to Jacksonville. Barber attacked Coughlin’s play-calling, especially his decision to abandon the run for essentially the entire second half. Then, after this past Sunday’s historic collapse at Tennessee, Coughlin criticized Manning at a post-game press conference for his late game interception, which set up the field goal that completed the Titans comeback victory.
I have no problem with Coughlin criticizing Manning. After all, Eli is killing the Giants right now, and a coach has a right to be frustrated. But, where did this norm about criticizing coaches come from?
Page 2’s Gregg Easterbrook is all over this double standard in this week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback (TMQ):
“Outcoached! It's been the buzz phrase of the past few weeks, and this week several NFL coaches were significantly outcoached. None, however, admitted as much. Bear Bryant maintained that after a victory the players deserve the credit, and after a loss the coach deserves the blame. Today every NFL coach praises the Bear, then conveniently overlooks his maxim. At the least we should hold to the axiom "win as a team, lose as a team," and assume that in a loss the coaches must have coached poorly. There's no shame in this, since coaches have good games and bad games just as players do. But you'd never know that from NFL coaches. For them, somebody else is always to blame.”
Easterbrook highlights poor decisions by Lovie Smith, Jim Mora, Jr., Jack Del Rio and Coughlin in their teams’ week eleven losses.
About Mora, Jr., whose father (ex-coach, of course) famously called Michael Vick a “coach-killer” two weeks ago, Easterbrook said:
“Jim Mora Decried as "Quarterback Killer": Two weeks ago TMQ noted that Atlanta coach Mora the Younger made a puzzling decision at the end of the first half against Cleveland, ordering an onside kick with nine seconds remaining and the Falcons holding but one timeout. The Browns recovered in position for a Hail Mary, but suppose Atlanta had recovered -- what would have been accomplished? Atlanta went on to lose. Now it's Sunday and the reeling Falcons are at home against the United States Saints. The Saints lead 14-6 and hold the ball at midfield with seven seconds remaining in the first half. The clock is stopped owing to an incompletion, but Mora calls timeout, allowing New Orleans extra time to set up a Hail Mary play. Touchdown, and suddenly the Falcons are in deep trouble with the score 21-6 at the half. Note: I don't wish to alarm you, but New Orleans now has the NFL's No. 1 passing attack.
As the Falcons have dropped four straight, everyone's focusing on criticizing Michael Vick. What about all the odd coaching decisions made by Mora and his assistants? Vick wasn't the one who ordered himself to take seven-step drops on passes against New Orleans -- something he's never been good at, and which plays away from his strength, the sprint-out pass. (Sprint-outs keep Vick closer to the line and also simplify the field, requiring him to look at only half the coverage, not the entire coverage as in a deep dropback.) Trailing 14-3, Atlanta had third-and-goal on the Saints' 2, on a day the Falcons would rush for 281 yards and average 6.2 yards per rush. Just run the ball! It wasn't Vick who not only called a passing play but a seven-step drop play that required him to run backward to the New Orleans 10; sack, and Atlanta settles for a field goal. You're on the 2, why are you instructing your quarterback to run backward to the 10? Last season's incident in which Mora the Younger did not know that a tie would keep Atlanta alive for the playoffs, and was screaming into a cell phone on the sidelines as he sent in the wrong decisions knocking the Falcons out of the postseason, is hardly the only weird coaching by Mora. Plus, a good coach focuses the criticism on himself, away from his players, a la Bear Bryant. Time to look away from Vick and toward the Atlanta sideline.”
Coughlin’s weekly chat with Mike and the Mad Dog included an interesting exchange in which Mike Francesa told Coughlin that Football Night in America the previous night, Jerome Bettis had criticized Coughlin for this double-standard essentially arguing that it was wrong for Coughlin to tell all his players to keep it in-house, while he publicly attacked his players. Between them, Mike and Chris probably said a half a dozen times that they didn’t agree with Bettis, but just wanted to know what Coughlin thought. Coughlin said that’s was just wrong, but he had no answer because, whether you think the different standards are warranted – the facts are not in dispute: Coughlin publicly criticizes his players, but insists that they not return fire.
This norm seems stronger in football than in the other sports, perhaps because the culture and sensibility of football is closer to that of the military than is the case in any other sport. And, as Colonel Nathan Jessup famously told Lieutenant Caffey many years ago, in the military "if people disobey an order, people die." But, I think it's also true that football players work really hard in a given week, perhaps harder than other athletes and they endure a lot of pain. We focus on the instances in which a player appears not to be giving effort (for example, Plaxico Burress at time) but, the reality is that football players are killing themselves out there. So, I am sure it's frustrating for them to feel like all of their efforts have gone for naught because their coach didn't put them in the best position to win.
In any event, I think the foundations of our Republic will somehow survive an uptick in criticisms of coaches by players.
I am glad to see Easterbrook call this out. His column’s final line:
“Next Week: Tom Coughlin blames the Trilateral Commission.”