Do You Have to be a Dick to be a Successful Head Coach in Today’s NFL?

by Howie Decker on January 22, 2013 · 3 comments

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Ahole coachesWhen I was a kid, I wished Don Shula was my grandpa.

Sure, it would have been kick-ass to get free Miami Dolphins stuff, visit south Florida a few times a year, and eat steak for free at his restaurant; but those weren’t really the reasons. Don Shula just seemed like such a nice guy.

Shula had a carefree demeanor for a man in such a culpable position. He always seemed happy, gave positive reinforcement, and was beloved by his peers.

Don Shula was just one coach in a class of successful NFL head men that seemed to legitimately enjoy their job. After all, there’s only 32 such positions in the world- you should enjoy that type of elite status, right? Joe Gibbs, Dick Vermeil, even Marv Levy who was stuck in Buffalo (go ahead Western New Yorkers, hit the comments- sell me on the benefits of living in the second cloudiest place in America) always seemed to be happy, upbeat gentlemen.

In that era, postgame interviews and press conferences were laced with positives. Silver linings were highlighted even after the toughest of losses. Most of all, the coaches (with some exception) were always cordial with the media and respected the fact that they were just doing their job.

In today’s NFL, we still see coaches who are amicable with the media and fans, but it’s much less often the case. In fact, the most successful current NFL head coaches seem to be the ones who are the most surly with the media.

Leaving the field at halftime of the AFC Championship game, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked a fairly standard ‘end of the first half’ question. His response was glib, lacking any substance or forethought. He knows he’s what he’s going to be asked at halftime of every game, yet his response was uncivil and brusk.

How many people in other professions could get away with this being their standard mode of operations? Example: I know my boss is going to walk in every morning at 9AM and ask me how I’m doing. I could get away with being churlishly rude every once in a while, we all have bad days. But every time? Grow up Harbaugh. I know it must get annoying to be asked the same questions repeatedly, especially when your adrenaline is peaked and you’re highly focused, but there’s a difference between being annoyed sometimes and just being a dick. You’re a dick.

Thing is, being a dick seems to be an integral ingredient in the recipe for a successful head coach today. Harbaugh’s brother is even worse. Bill Belichick, the most successful head coach of the current era, is a mega-dick.

Again, there are exceptions to every rule. Mike Tomlin is a successful NFL head coach and is not a dick. Nick Saban was a wildly unsuccessful NFL head coach, and  is a dick (go figure). Chuck Pagano seems like a nice enough guy, but he hasn’t achieved that next level of success that coaches like the Harbaughs, Tom Coughlin and Belichick enjoy. Elite head coaches seem to be assholes by nature, and the nice guys typically do not reach elite status.

So why the paradigm shift?

Why are the considerate, courteous patriarchal-type head coaches of the past no longer viable in today’s NFL, as evidenced by Joe Gibbs’ 2004-2007 failed attempt to return to prominence?

It has less to do with the coaches themselves, and everything to do with the players.

Think of an NFL player from the 1970s & 80s. Who comes to mind? Mike Singletary? Jerry Rice? Barry Sanders?

Consummate professionals. Sure, these guys are some of the standouts of the era, but their attitudes were exemplary of the typical player of that time, on and off the field. Players then were concerned about their teammates, their careers, and winning games. Sure, they were concerned with their individual performances, and things like how many carries they got, but show me a sport at any level in the history of sports that doesn’t operate that way.

My point is, they were concerned with the game. Players today are concerned with Twitter, their bank accounts, their cars, their image, their “brand” and everything BUT the game. NFL coaches today have to be more babysitter than coach. Players today are children compared to the men that played in past eras.

Does anyone think Larry Csonka would give a shit about Twitter? Would Reggie White show up late for a team meeting because he had a fight with his girlfriend who is on a reality show? Come on.

Coaches have to put up with a lot more bullshit today than ever. I’ll admit that. Owners want to win now, so every game matters. Turnover is high. Players are irresponsible and immature. I get it, but none of that is the media’s fault. You chose this profession; you chose to be in the spotlight. Things aren’t going to go your way every time, and when they don’t, don’t be a dick to the referees and the media. Be a professional, be a man, have some grace. Lead by example.


Howie Decker (@HowardtheDeck) is the chief blogger and editor of, a place for “children of the 80s”. He likes fantasy baseball & taco night.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

ClarenceRHM January 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I gotta say that money can do some strange things to people and the level of idiocy that goes on in the high-stakes NFL is disappointing but unsurprising to me.

And another sad consequence of immature players: bad or nonexistent tackling.

Tony Dungy was a brilliant coach on so many levels.

HowardtheDeck January 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

Thanks for the comment Clarence!

Dungy is a great example that I omitted. Yeah, money ruins a lot of things. The coaches and players are paid so much nowadays, and there’s no way having millions of dollars as a young 20 yr old doesnt change your outlook on the world. the sense of entitlement has to be through the roof at these team facilities. I can’t imagine the level of babysitting the coaches and (mostly) assistants have to do.

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