The Deification of The "Tough Coach"

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The Deification of The
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

If there's one thing that bothers me about the NFL community (media, fans, etc.), it's the fetishism for "tough" or "no-nonsense" coaches.

I don't know why we seem to have this pathological need to see grown men chewed out by some emotionally unstable jackass, but everywhere I look, I see paeans to these individuals.

Take this Sports Illustrated piece by John Lopez. His thesis: tough coaches are needed because of the prevalence of spoiled behavior on the part of star athletes. Fair enough—this is the type of thing one sees everywhere.

Look at his examples, though. Michael Crabtree? Nonsensical considering the entire article is basically set up to praise 49ers coach Mike Singletary.

OK, maybe one could argue that Crabtree hasn't been around Singletary to sufficiently absorb his toughness (how does that happen, by the way? Osmosis?). But Tom Brady? Yeah, Bill Belichick is a real softy. After a tough Jets loss last week, he took his players out for ice cream and told them they were all winners.

Also, consider the NFL's current poster boy for bad behavior, Plaxico Burress, and his coach, Tom Coughlin. I suppose Coughlin isn't tough enough either - he should have been able to keep the bullet out of Burress' leg through sheer force of will. Maybe if he started his meetings 10 minutes early instead of just five, Burress would still be on the team right now.

My point is, it appears that coach toughness and player misbehavior are completely independent of one another.

The hard part about disproving the "tough coach" issue is the fact that it, like it's "player's coach" sibling, is rewarded after the fact.

Mike Singletary and Bill Cowher are tough coaches. Nick Saban is simply a jerk.

Tony Dungy is soft-spoken. Herm Edwards is a player's coach.

Jon Gruden was tough when he won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers, but I guess became less tough over time. Maybe he took a yoga class?

In this NY Times Freakonomics blog post, Stephen Dubner writes about "survivor bias," the fact that we only look at the tactics of the successful while completely ignoring all others. I think it applies with "tough coaches" as well—we admire Coughlin, while completely ignoring the angry guys who fail (again, paging Nick Saban).

Being tough is not necessary to be an NFL head coach, nor is it the surefire way to success—it just happens that many coaches have a controlling attitude. Coaches, therefore, shouldn't be tough for toughness' sake, but coach the way that works best for them.

I'd go on, but I'm only three minutes early for a meeting with Coughlin. God knows what he'll do to me.

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