Musing on the recent spate of confrontational coaches
Oct. 21, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
They're going to get fired up in south Florida today when Georgia Tech and Miami square off with the goals of keeping ACC title hopes alive and of pounding one another to submission in the process.
That's part of the deal in football, whose nature qualifies as pretty violent.
There can be no condoning what seems like a recent uptick in coaches fussing at one another, but in a society that can be hyper quick to pass judgment how much of the adjudication process should be devoted to considering the environment in which these tempers rise?
Tech coach Paul Johnson passed on a chance earlier this week to join some fans and pundits condemning University of Georgia assistant coach Todd Grantham for his fracas at Vanderbilt or the tete-a-tete between Lions coach Jim Schwartz and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
Johnson didn't offer a defense of any principles, either, but he offered a starting point of sorts to help others at least begin to grasp how something like those incidents could happen.
Both skirmishes (if you're not familiar, hit a search engine with some of the words in the previous paragraph) came after tightly-contested games.
That word - tightly - is critical to Johnson's point.
It is impossible to trace all the origins of recent testosterone spikes, a list which in a way could grow to include a high school game in east-central Georgia last Friday after which multiple fights broke involving players and one head coach getting smashed in the face with a helmet.
But you'd probably be tight, too, if you spent week-after-week for months working every single day, sometimes for 14 hours, on a project to have it culminate in a simple non-debatable it's-good-enough-or-not judgment.
That would be your final score, and just hours after you get it, you jump back in the work cycle.
This doesn't make the behavior of Grantham, Schwartz, Harbaugh or any other hotheads defensible. It might, however, help some of us understand how their wiring could burn so hot as to occasionally fry in public.
"Sometimes I wonder if people really understand what goes into this profession," Johnson said. "I think sometimes people think you just go to practice and then go home, and when the season's over you play golf. Any time you invest as much time and effort ... it's part of your life, it's your identity, it's part of your family.
"It's seven days a week you're putting in all this time and effort, and it's emotional ... win or lose. Sometimes, after the game if you think that you've been slighted or somebody is trying to show you up, or something happens, tempers ... "
The Tech coach kind of trailed off there.
His is not the only emotional profession; not by a long shot. And there are other jobs that come to a sizzling head where critical decisions must be made on the fly and there will an up-or-down score at the end. A heart surgeon, for example, comes to mind.
It's silly, of course, to compare coaches to heart surgeons who probably don't throw tantrums like coaches. Then again, they're not competing during surgery, nor watching their boys get beat upon, and they probably never have to deal with confrontational and egotistical peers when they're finished.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time you run across the field, and the guy who won the game is trying to be cordial. You go, `Hey, you guys played really hard. I hope you win the rest of your games,' because you know that guy doesn't want to talk to you," Johnson said. "Nobody wants to have, `Hey, my guys kicked your ass.' Nobody wants to hear that."
Well, certainly not.
Coaches see and hear things they don't like during games, and in Grantham's case it prompted his high-energy behavior after the Vandy contest last Saturday.
Grantham thought some of the Commodores were un-sportsman-like with some of his defenders, or "giving them the business down there," much as former New York Jet Marty Lyons did in 1993 after sacking former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. That sparked former NFL official Ben Dreith's epic explanation (video link here) in which he incorrectly cited the penalty on Mark Gastineau.
Here's hoping we don't see any more of this business, nor anything like the knot of fights that broke out Thursday night in the UCLA-Arizona game.
Sometimes, it's tough to keep your cool. It's essential, though, and Johnson - who now and then will work up a lather without shaving cream -- knows that and that it's sometimes easier said than done.
"Some people will say, `It's just a game; you better lighten up on the sidelines,' " the Tech coach said. "Those are the same guys who when you lose are going to fire you."
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