It hasn’t been the best of years for the three NFL teams that coaching legend Vince Lombardi worked for during his NFL career. The Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers are on the edge of the playoffs, while the other two clubs Lombardi worked with, the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, are much closer to the bottom of the Eastern Division of the NFC than the top.
How would “The Coach” have handled not just the losing, but the chaos of the issues that have hit his beloved sport recently, from coaches interfering with players to hazing and the continued issue of steroids? We turned to the next best person, actor Dan Lauria, who played the coach on stage for eight months in “Lombardi” and has reprised the role numerous times for the NFL Network and some other places since, what Vince would be thinking and doing these days.
“First of all, Coach Lombardi was one of the fairest and most tolerant of all people when it came to differences of race or color in an era when there were teams that still had issues,” Lauria said as he took a break from readying to play the role of The Narrator in “A Christmas Story,” which opened this week at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
“He was the first to have a player of color play middle linebacker (Hall of Famer Dave Robinson, who was inducted into Canton in August), his brother Harold was gay, and the fact that he was driven by his own faults would have made him have much less tolerance for bullying than you would expect. Coach Lombardi was all about the team and the focus on winning, and that striving for elusive perfection would have made him force those causing the distractions and hurting the team away.”
As far as the steroid and concussion issues, Lauria thinks that again many who know only the yelling and screaming sideline antics captured on NFL Films would be surprised by where the real Lombardi would fall.
“He would have embraced the science and said we have to do something about this,” he added. “Coach would have insisted that the owners step forward and say we are complicit in all of this and we need to do something about these issues.”
Lauria felt the issues between performance enhancing drugs and debilitating head injuries are really linked, and that many in the media have glossed over the link, something which Lombardi would have gone out of his way to expose. As far as some if the sideline antics like those of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and even the Brooklyn Nets Jason Kidd, Lauria added that Lombardi might have understood but never tolerated.
“It is true that he chased every edge to win, but he was a teacher first, and fair play and equal play was what he dedicated his life to,” he added. “Now maybe Coach wanted to create an advantage by testing the limits, like growing the grass to a certain height or experimenting with coils that heated Lambeau Field (coils which famously failed the night before the famous Ice Bowl, by the way), but going outside the rules was not something he would have done.”
As far as the fates of those three franchises today, Lauria thought that control of all the tools was something that Lombardi needed, and that control would be tougher today.
“He was very hands on as a coach in both Green Bay and Washington, and that’s the way it had to be, like a Parcells was,” the fellow Brooklyn native added. “Could he have dealt with an owner like a Dan Snyder, tough to say, because at the end for him to achieve success he had to have the final say. That’s why Green Bay worked, the team was community owned, and that’s why his short time in Washington worked, because the owner ceded power to him.
"Now the Mara family and the Tisch family with the Giants of today, would probably be a place where like Coach Coughlin, Coach Lombardi, would have thrived, but even he had some short years plagued by injury in Green Bay. A year like this for the Giants would have drove him crazy, just as I’m sure it has for Coach Coughlin.”
Indeed Lauria has probably a better understanding than many for Big Blue of today: His former teammate at Southern Connecticut University is on the Giants sideline in offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
So how would the legendary coach fare today, with such changes going on in the game on and off the field?
“Very well,” Lauria concluded. “He was an innovator, he was designing the West Coast offense on his death bed, and he knew how to motive and be understanding of what pushed the buttons of each of his players. That’s why they loved him and that’s why he was so successful. He didn’t always have the best players, he had the best players who worked together, and that’s a great lesson for those involved in the NFL to revisit today.”
Lauria added that his current Broadway role is one Lombardi would also have loved, because the story told in the musical is after all, about the relationship and the bond between a father and son.
“At the end of the day, it’s the Old Man who gets Ralphie the BB gun when everyone else forgot, and knowing how to manage that relationship between guys, even though his relationship with his son suffered, is what made him a good coach, and he would have admired how the father and the son in the show linked together.”
So as the NFL heads toward the playoffs in this topsy-turvy year, perhaps some teams and leaders can look back to their legendary figure to take some lessons on how to heal, learn and move forward. “The Coach” would appreciate the lesson.
Jerry Milan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless noted.