October 16, 2011
The back-and-forth between Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz and San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh after the 49ers' 25-19 Sunday afternoon win further reveals what we already know — coaching is a pressure-based business with some very high-strung individuals, and things get out of hand at times, especially when records and jobs are on the line. This is hardly new, and we've seen enough in recent years to know that coaches will get into it at times.
We've especially seen this from Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley, who's had things to say to Harbaugh's brother John, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, and former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels. The Harbaugh-Haley flap occurred this preseason, when Harbaugh was evaluating his low bench players in the late seconds of what became a 31-13 Ravens victory. Maybe Haley should have been unhappier about his own team's inability to hold a lead (the Chiefs were up 13-10 at one point), but it got around that Haley didn't like the way Harbaugh handled his business.
"I want to apologize to the Chiefs if they feel like we were not doing the right thing at the end of the game," Harbaugh said. "That wasn't the mindset, OK? The mindset was - this is the preseason. If this had been the regular season, we would've been on a knee. The idea in that situation is to give those young guys who work hard and who are trying to make a football team - this football team or another football team - to play the whole 60 minutes and give them a chance to show what they can do. Offensive line, running backs, everybody.
I think [Haley] said something like, 'I don't know about that. I understood, and I just said, 'Preseason, preseason for the young guys.' He said 'OK.' I've got a lot of respect for Todd Haley, and a lot of respect for the Chiefs and what they do."
So, that was pretty much that. However, Haley had a bigger bone to pick with the notoriously mercurial McDaniels in a November, 2010 incident. Haley refused to shake McDaniels' hand after the Broncos put up a 49-29 whipping on the Chiefs, and he had to apologize for it the next day.
"It sounds like it's become a big deal and I do want to apologize for me not shaking Josh's hand after the game," he said at the time. "I do believe in doing what's right and that was not right. Probably let the emotions of the situation get me too much. And I apologize. I apologize to the fans and to Denver and to Josh."
Of course, when it comes to not shaking hands (or doing it as quickly as possible to avoid any actual conversation), the kinds of passive-aggressive were Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini, especially after Mangini's New York Jets ratted Belichick out on the whole Spygate affair. For a time, the former Pats defensive assistant was on the list — but eventually, the two coaches embraced after a game just to confuse everybody.
If you want real physical violence between coaches, you'd have to go old-school a bit. There was the story about Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan directing quarterback Elvis Grbac to throw a football near the head of late Oakland Raiders owner (and former AFL Coach of the Year) Al Davis.
Davis, as he does before almost every game, was walking the field, talking to players and others. Shanahan pulled Grbac aside, Grbac recalled, and gave an unusual order: ''See Al Davis over there? I want you to throw the ball right at him.''
A shocked Grbac replied: ''I can't do that. If I hit him, do you know what he could do to me?''
Shanahan looked at Grbac with his intense glare and said, ''Throw the ball.''
So Grbac did. He threw a tight, hard spiral some 30 yards directly at the head of Davis. At the last second, Davis saw it and ducked, the ball missing him by only a few inches. Davis, his hair ruffled, then made an obscene gesture at Shanahan, witnessed by a former Raiders coach who confirmed Grbac's story.
Perhaps the best actual takedown happened between two coaches on the same team — when Houston Oilers defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan went after offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in January of 1994:
Still, when it comes right down to it, NFL coaches have a way to go before they'll be able to replicate the thermonuclear efforts of their basketball brethren. Witness this all-timer between John Calipari and John Chaney (note: this video is kind of yelly and potentially NSFW):
We've never seen that kind of threat level in the NFL, and let's hope we don't. The game is physical enough for the players without coaches deciding to get all contentious.
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