Generally speaking, football coaches have mixed responses to player fights in practice. On the public side, they will usually say that the lack of discipline inherent in such extracurricular activity goes against everything they're trying to establish. But in their hearts of hearts, a high percentage of those same coaches would tell you, if pressed, that a little unscheduled violence fits the bill when you're trying to get your team to play aggressively.
Chad Eaton, a former defensive tackle who played for current New England Patriots Bill Belichick during the 1995 season on the Cleveland Browns' practice squad back when Belichick coached there, recently told the Dayton Daily News that Belichick went to the extreme of paying certain players to start stuff in practice at scheduled intervals.
"If practice was going slow, he'd look at me and just say, 'It's time,' " Eaton said. "He wanted me to get on somebody's (case) and start a little fight. I was known for that and it paid off on Fridays. There'd always be some extra money in my locker. Practice players don't make much, so I really appreciated it."
"I don't remember that," Belichick told a pool reporter on Friday when he was asked about Eaton's claim.
Of course, that wouldn't be the first time Belichick ran afoul of the NFL's rules and regulations, though there wouldn't likely be any punishment for a 16-year-old infraction. But when it was discovered that Belichick had directed his staff to illegally record the practices of opponents and opponents in games, the "Spygate" scandal cost the Patriots $250,000, Belichick half a million dollars, and the team its first-round draft choice in 2008.
Eaton played four seasons for the Patriots before Belichick arrived in 2000, and he stuck around for Belichick's first season in Foxboro. He was cleared out as Belichick looked to eliminate some of the more bloated contracts of the Pete Carroll/Bobby Grier era, and he signed a lucrative contract with the Seattle Seahawks. A good but never truly exceptional player, Eaton became known in Seattle for controversial comments and attitude curing his brief stint as a TV and radio personality.
He now serves as the defensive line coach at Ohio's Central State University, where he's done a lot to add aggressiveness and production to a formerly quiet front four.
"Our sacks have gone from just eight last year to 20-something this season," said head coach E,J. Junior, another NFL veteran. "A lot of this improvement is due to Coach Eaton. The kids respond to him."
Hopefully, Eaton isn't encouraging anyone to start any little fires in practice…