Labriola On

Labriola on fire-the-coach, full-time zebras

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • It comes with the job. The job pays a lot of money. The industry actively cultivates passion among its customers and has come to identify them with a word that's a derivative of "fanatic." I get all that. I get that coaches in the NFL – both the head guys and the assistants – are heavily scrutinized and criticized.
  • And when a team disappoints/underachieves, as these Steelers have through the first eight of their 16-game schedule this season, there are going to be fingers pointed at them, there are going to be people who want to see them get fired.
  • I get a fair number of those kinds of submissions for the thrice-weekly installments of Asked and Answered, and while I refuse to entertain them because I consider firing people a very, very serious job and a job that is certainly not mine, what is somewhat amusing is the manner in which the individual gets around to making that point/demand.
  • There are those who choose to begin with some variation of "I've been a Steelers fan for (insert some number that never seems to be less than 40) years" before making a case for Mike Tomlin's immediate unemployment. What gets me with these is that if they've actually been a life-long Steelers fan, as they so proudly proclaim, don't they come into it knowing the franchise doesn't make rash moves, especially with coaches?
  • The other amusing approach begins as more of an attempt to enlist an ally in a cause, before coming to the inevitable conclusion that all reasonable people would agree (insert name here) deserves to be on "the hot seat." And apparently those quotation marks are mandatory.
  • But anyway, do the quotation marks hold some sort of significance, because what precisely does "on the hot seat" mean? What are the consequences? Is it anything like "double secret probation" at Faber College? Does it mean a trip to Dean Wormer's office?

The Steelers prepare for the Week 10 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys.

  • Anyway, another peculiarity from the fire-the-coach crowd comes in the choices it makes as to which coaches deserve to lose their jobs, or maybe more accurately in this instance, which ones should be spared. For example, there seems to be no hesitation to go after a defensive backs coach because of the low number of interceptions, but nobody wants an offensive line coach fired after the running game gets stuffed. As an example.
  • One of the misconceptions feeding this line of "thought" about football that has grown along with the explosion of talking heads bloviating on 24-hour sports stations is "it's a chess match," that coaches are master puppeteers manipulating players and orchestrating all of the action on the field. Or to use a comparison the 140-character generation might better understand, as though the football played in NFL stadiums each weekend is somehow a glorified video game, instead of 60 minutes of organized mayhem committed via bursts of activity by 22 human beings at a time.
  • And this portrayal of football is only as old as cable TV, because when I was growing up and learning to love the NFL, I never remember Vince Lombardi out-coaching anybody or winning any games because of clever halftime adjustments. Hey, you lifelong Steelers fans out there, do you look back on any of those 1970s Super Bowls as having been won by Chuck Noll out-coaching the other guy?
  • Mark Malone once told me a story about his rookie training camp at Saint Vincent College, where the offensive coaches were installing the proper response to what was the cutting-edge coverage at the time. Malone said this new coverage had the safeties line up perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, one behind the other, instead of the more traditional parallel to the line of scrimmage alignment, next to each other.
  • Malone said the coaches were teaching how to read the coverage and how to counteract it, and all of the various checks and adjustments necessary by both the quarterback and the receivers to avoid the interceptions this was designed to create. Malone, always a studious player, said he was having trouble grasping all of the intricacies, and so after a couple of days of struggling, he decided to walk down the hall to visit Terry Bradshaw's dorm room after lunch to seek the veteran's counsel before going onto the field for that afternoon's practice.
  • He said he knocked on the door and found Bradshaw sitting on the bed, strumming his guitar. His playbook was thrown into the corner on a pile of clothes. After asking Bradshaw how he handled this new coverage, he said Bradshaw looked at him and said, "I don't care where they line up those safeties. I just drop back, look for Swann or Stallworth, throw it high and hard, and just let them go up and get it."
  • Now that's good coaching.
  • Last Tuesday morning, the NFL woke up to another brouhaha involving the officiating in the previous night's Monday Night Football contest that had the Buffalo Bills playing in Seattle against the Seahawks, and this habit of showcasing the incompetence of its officials in primetime cannot be doing anything for the league's reputation, or its television ratings.
  • Whenever the NFL has a showcase game – and whether it's a good matchup or a clunker, Monday Night Football is a showcase for the league and has been since 1970 – and the conversation the next day is about touchdown celebrations, or national anthem protests, or officials not knowing the rules or otherwise screwing up to a degree that gives the appearance of directly affecting the outcome of the game, it's a bad thing.
  • This most recent example comes courtesy of Walt Anderson, the referee of the crew that worked Bills-Seahawks on Monday night. By now, you've seen the video of the field goal attempt, the Richard Sherman should've-been penalty, the mismanagement of the play clock that forced a 5-yards longer field goal attempt, all in a game that ended with the Bills in field goal position in the final seconds but trailing by 6 points instead of 3.
  • As for the latest in that drama, the NFL "announced" that Sherman had been fined for contact on Bills kicker Dan Carpenter, which should have been penalized but wasn't even though Walt Anderson's job on the play is to be protecting the kicker. But Anderson won't be fined or disciplined, according to ESPN, nor will any of the other officials on his crew.
  • As these instances of incompetence become more and more frequent, the issue of full-time officials is gaining momentum. But only, it seems, in the outside world. Former NFL Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira, now an analyst for FOX, said about this very issue to Peter King this week, "I can't fathom what a side judge would do all week to get better and make better calls on Sunday. Read the rule book? Watch a lot more tape?"
  • What arrogance. Yes, read the rule book. Watch more video. Work some team's practices so a better understanding is formed and games aren't ruined by 20-plus penalties and the never-ending on-field "administrative sessions" required before the herd of zebras figures out what to call.
  • And no, Pereira no longer is an NFL employee, no longer in charge of the league's officiating, but do any of you honestly believe that his isn't also the prevailing attitude on 345 Park Ave. in New York City?
  • Me neither.
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