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Kneeling Before False Gods

National Football Post

It was during training camp with the Redskins in 1995 when I began to hear rumors about this coach in Jacksonville. The Jaguars, along with the Carolina Panthers, were the expansion teams that year so naturally they generated a lot of news. But the biggest rumors swirled around Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin.

It seems he had all these rules. You had to sit with both feet on the floor, you couldn’t wear hats inside and you couldn’t wear sunglasses outdoors. If you were injured and unable to practice, then you would have to wear your helmet while riding the stationary bike on the sideline. And then there was the strangest one of all. There was an imaginary line called the concentration line or something whereby once you crossed it, you were not allowed to think about anything other than football.

Coughlin was in his first season as an NFL head coach. He had been the head coach at Boston College before that. Prior to Boston College he had been a long time assistant in the NFL, most notably on Bill Parcell’s staff with the Giants.

As word spread throughout camp and throughout the league, it became a running joke among us. Whenever things were bad, you could at least be thankful you weren’t playing for Jacksonville.

I’ve always abhorred those coaches and authority figures who wield power simply for power’s sake. And this Coughlin fellow came off as a crisply starched demon. But when I got wind of another story, I reconsidered my position.

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ICONCoaches like Tom Coughlin are offended by petty tactics.

The National Mall in D.C. was the site for the Million Man March—a one day gathering of black men who had decided a meeting was in order to accept some accountability for the troubled state of the black community.

It was a great event, attended by luminaries like Martin Luther King III and Rosa Parks, and captured most wonderfully by the lyrical majesty of one Maya Angelo. Of course, because Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam were affiliated with it, the real purpose of the event was lost upon the unfortunate (and visibly frightened) media types who were assigned to cover it.

But the significance of the Million Man March wasn’t lost on Tom Coughlin. Five Jaguars players—Desmond Howard, Cedric Tillman, Jimmy Smith, Willie Jackson, and Mickey Washington wanted to attend the event. Problem was, it was in October, and during the middle of the work week. So they asked Tom Coughlin and he granted them permission to attend. “It’s a wonderful cause,” said Coughlin at the time. “It’s good that these young men feel so deeply about this cause and about responsibility that they have made the choice to be supportive of this cause.”

Tom Coughlin, the joyless despot with an open desire to control his players’ every action, including their thoughts, had a vision greater than football. Who knew? After that we all did. There was a method to the man’s madness and it included a healthy respect for the greater good. Now, this greater good is an ambiguous thing and is defined on a case-by-case basis.

It was a specific case of blatant disregard for that greater good that set Coughlin off in the final seconds of week two of the NFL season. Leading the Buccaneers 41-34, the Giants assembled their victory formation and Eli Manning kneeled down to run out the clock. But the Tampa Bay defense inexplicably blitzed Manning, even knocking him to the ground.

I thought, for several reasons, that this was a surely a one-time feat—a gesture by which Greg Schiano, an insecure rookie coach showed the league he meant business. After Tom Coughlin, the coach of the reigning champion was so visibly offended, I figured the various members of the league’s competition committee would convene to make a statement. But as they’re currently occupied with amateur officials, I suppose the topic of amateur coaches will have to wait.

Then last week in a 16-10 loss to the Cowboys, not only did Schiano do it again, he briefly interrupted his team’s assault on the victory ritual by calling a timeout in order to hold a brief midfield pep rally.

The new sheriff always has a little extra starch in his pants. He’s expected to sell discipline as if it’s a brand new concept. This is a good thing.

And Schiano is not without his good deeds. His preseason conditioning test is, on the surface a good idea. Sixteen one hundred-yard sprints was a nice novel idea in which the players could use imagery to compliment the exercise—connecting each effort to a specific game. I like that. It’s both creative and practical.

Let’s not ignore Schiano’s definitive acknowledgement of the greater good. Back in May, Schiano signed Eric LeGrand to a contract with Tampa Bay. The former defensive end from Rutgers was famously paralyzed in a game against Army in 2010 and his old coach wanted to do right by him.

So maybe all is forgiven. Perhaps the magnitude of that one gesture should eclipse pesky little matters of etiquette.

No, not quite. The world is full of folks who give to charity in order to purposely treat the rest of the population like crap. Schiano’s relationship with LeGrand makes him a do gooder and as such he will be held to a higher standard.

When a team kneels down at the end of the game, a gentlemen’s agreement goes into action. It means you had your chance to win, but that time has passed. I’d expect a do gooder to comply with a gentlemen’s agreement for it is right up his alley.

Now battle lines are being drawn. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, in his third and final attempt at mastering the Sunday league is an avid supporter of Schiano’s tactic, as is Dallas owner Jerry Jones.

It’s hardly surprising that Jones would be all in for a guy who would puncture league tradition in a way that brings attention to himself. Of course this endorsement put Cowboys coach Jason Garrett in a tough spot last Sunday. Did you see Garrett’s pained expression as the Bucs defensive front tunneled beneath his embattled offensive line?

It seems that after Cowboys center Ryan Cook snapped the ball and was sent sprawling backwards onto the turf after a direct blow to his head, a safety issue would be introduced to the discussion. Just yesterday, the blogosphere was all atwitter after Ryan Mundy’s hit on Darrius Heyward-Bey. If that action was deemed “unnecessary,” then what is this silliness at the end of the game?

This issue will surely be raised at the league meetings this winter. Until then, perhaps every team that plays the Bucs should make very attempt to run up the score.

Nah, that would be bush league.

Follow Alan Grant on twitter @AlanGrant_NFL

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