Because Coaches Who Don't Like Each Other Is Fun For Everybody


Brawls, barbs and discouraging words top some of my favorite things about football. Games – like battles – take place between two sides hell-bent on victory. It doesn’t mean they are wars. But, if we subscribe to the romanticism athletics create, it’s easy to see the combat. Put them in the coliseum, put them at Thermopylae, put them at Soldier Field. Let’s see who comes out on top. Let’s see who’s better.

There shouldn’t be love lost between opponents, which would mean there was love to start. Two sides go out and play. One licks its wounds afterwards. The other enjoys the glory. Results are simple. Difference is stark. Wins and losses, exultation and sadness, thrill and agony.

Each game is its own storyline. Since covering teams in close proximity – three high schools within 15 miles – my appreciation for the gamesmanship, underhanded comments and mutual disdain has grown.

Coaches don’t simply seek wins. They need to be better than the opposing coach, like the wide receiver wants to be better than the cornerback. Wins give off-the-record chuckles and jokes. Losses make them calmly tuck their tail between their legs. Losers wear the disbelieving look of a child wondering why Santa didn’t bring their most-needed gift.

Somewhere, the childishness of sport owns enough content for volumes of encyclopedias. Reduced to their most innate self, coaches compete. At conference meetings, they get along fine. They’re as skilled in clichés, hobnobbing and public relationships as they are at in-game adjustments and referee criticisms. Once the untrusted are out of earshot, man do they hate that sonofbitch and this jerk and can’t wait ‘til they put six touchdowns on such-and-such’s weak ass defense.

They chew on the gristle – their pride – when forced to give credit where it’s due. Yeah, it was a great call but if they fall short it’s a not-so-great call. And sure, their back played well tonight but I think we missed some tackles that made him look like a superstar. The all-conference quarterback? He’s got a live arm but anyone can play well when you give him all day to throw.

Some of it is job description. A coach must have his team in check, clicking on all cylinders. When that doesn’t happen, teams lose. Then, they face bounce-back tests where coaches “wait to see what they’re really made of.” Deep down, it’s more about the humiliation of trotting a team full of warriors onto the field and leaving as lesser than. Humiliation, I tell ya.

In America, we don’t believe in ties. We believe one team must be better than another. In America, we rank our teams. We drool like starved Rottweilers when those evaluations lead to big games. We believe in football. Our coaches believe they’re all Vince Lombardi reincarnate. The pressure builds on the players, and the coaches get so damn squeamish they can’t sleep, eat or possibly sit in a room with their spouse.

They sit in a tiny – often windowless – office with assistants and figure out everything that could possibly go wrong. They wonder why they aren’t as good at a position as they were earlier in the season. They practice damage control during team dismissals and dismiss the notion their team will be worse for the wear. It’s a paranoia state and everyone with a whistle in the same color shirt is allowed attendance.

Honesty comes as a commodity that the public doesn’t really need. They deserve to be left in the dark because they belong there. Only those inside that room deserve to know what’s really going on. Damn the media man who scooped the story that could hurt the team. Damn the bosses who don’t understand how to schedule. And damn the guy on the other side because he’s the guy on the other side.

One time I spoke with a man I liked as he negotiated a playoff game schedule with a rival. The two parties kept up appearances through the year, but that was clearly a farce. When the game needed to be scheduled, neither side could agree. It was trivial. Why keep negotiating, I asked.

“Because why the hell should we do what they wanna do?” he said.

It didn’t take much more than that to communicate his message. When the sun set, and my pen and pad were nowhere to be found, they hated each other. When the sun comes up tomorrow, they will hate each other. That’s what competitive sports encourage. Sure, there are good men and women on both sides. Do they deserve the anger and nasty looks?

Probably not. Then again, they should’ve kept out of sports if it bothered them that much. All’s fair in love and war and sports, which is a combination of the two better-known parts of the phrase. I have the utmost respect for the job he does over there, coach says. He’s really gotten the most out of his kids, coach admits. He’s a good guy and I know he didn’t mean anything by that, coach forgives.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s genuine. Coaching handshakes never disappoint when it comes to truth – awkward and short with one side clearly biting his tongue in half inside his puckered mouth. The other guy has a million-dollar smile when he walks away because he knows he’s better than that sonofabitch, that’ll teach you to beat me to a recruit sonofabitch, enjoy your boosters asking how our fake punt worked you dumb, blind, deaf sonofabitch.

All of this seems so apparent when I lean back on the couch and watch interviews. When the sideline shots continually focus on the men in headsets, it’s clear as day. The sides all hate each other when the games go on, but unlike war, these commanders try to remain politically correct.

Since seeing the other side of these egomaniacal narcissists, I’ve enjoyed reading between the lines. It’s more fun. More expletives live there.

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