In today’s NFL, everything seems micro-managed. Players watch hours and hours of game film. They bury their heads in games and scouting reports. The media goes behind the scenes, watching the team’s every move, from the field to the locker room and sometimes even further. Players and coaches are put under an incredible microscope in this modern era of instant communication and 24-hour sports networks. Yet with all the constant scrutiny, one area of the game is in steep decline, and has found a way to slip through the cracks.
Take for example Vince Lombardi and Bill Belichick. Both are legendary coaches. Both are pioneers of offensive strategy: Lombardi with the famous “Packers Sweep” and Bellichick with his perfection of the spread-offense. So what is the difference between a coach like Lombardi and a coach like Belichick? Well, just look at them.
Lombardi’s suit and hat combo was a staple of NFL coaches of the 1950’s and 60’s. Long gone is the era of the well-dressed coach on the sidelines. It has been replaced by a simpler dress code. Dressing in team apparel is all it takes to look the part nowadays, and here in lies the problem. Coaches like Belichick are an example of the league’s lack of dress code policy. His trademark cut-off hoodie does not exactly fit with an organization that prides itself on professionalism — and yet it is celebrated. I know YMCA youth basketball parents who put on nicer clothes to go coach a game.
The most interesting part about this fashion (or lack there of) epidemic is that it’s a problem not shared by other major sports leagues. In Major League Baseball, players and coaches receive equal treatment, and are both required to wear the numbered uniform of their team. NBA and NHL coaches are never found without a suit and tie on game day. Even injured or inactive NBA players are required to sit on the bench in full formal attire.
Somewhere along the line, the league decided that it was ok for coaches to wear what essentially amounts to a fan’s uniform, and signed a 10-year exclusive contract with Reebok. The agreement stipulated that all coaches were to wear Reebok officially licensed team apparel during any team related activity.
Perhaps it’s something that most NFL fans don’t notice or care about, but I for one would love to see today’s coaches class it up like the coaches of old. Who wouldn’t want to look over at the sidelines and see Tom Coughlin decked out like Tom Landry?
Maybe it isn’t fair to indict all NFL coaches. Check out this photo of former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan, when he classed it up against the Seahawks in 2008. The 49ers themed tie was a nice touch.
Shortly after being hired by the 49ers in 2007, Nolan asked the NFL if he could wear a suit on the sidelines as a tribute to his father. After initially denying his request, the NFL changed the ruling the next year and allowed Nolan to wear the suit, so long as it was designed and produced by Reebok.
Former Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio followed suit (pun intended) the very next night in a game against the Giants on Monday Night Football. Del Rio’s came complete with a team-themed tie of his own.
It is clear that the suit is no longer the attire of choice for NFL coaches. The leagues official contract with Reebok expired in 2012, and has since been replaced by a similar one with competitor Nike. It would be interesting to see if Goodell’s original loophole still stands, and if any coach is brave enough to don a Nike made (but still classy) suit in 2013.
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