The dramatic outburst by newly appointed head coach Mike Singletary on Sunday displayed a fiery and vivid personality that will be memorialized on YouTube for weeks to come. Some will say that is the attitude needed to instill passion from players and to achieve success on the highest level of football. I disagree.
While I applaud Singletary’s treatment of Vernon Davis in sending him to a personal timeout in the midst of a game – Davis was clearly not used to consequences being applied to his actions – I don’t think the shouting approach will be effective in the long run.
The NFL is a grind. It is a sport that gathers its coaches and players for half a year of continuous and constant interaction. Coaches and players don’t have to get along but there has to be mutual respect and there has to be an element of trust. When one side loses that, there are inevitable problems.
The “fiery” coaches have a hard time in the long run. I know about the success of the snarling Mike Ditka and the always-perturbed Bill Parcells, and I have heard many stories about the temper flares of Mike Holmgren, who left the Packers after much success a month before I arrived. However, an NFL season is certainly not a sprint, and not even a half-marathon; it is a true marathon for which much endurance is required.
Coaches that go up and down through emotional roller coasters present potential damaging issues for themselves and for their team. As for themselves, stress is obviously already a part of what they do; adding to it with large swings of emotion exacerbates the issue for them. Coaches are legendary for not eating right during the season; that combined with long hours and abnormal sleep patterns are a dangerous combination for their personal well-being.
As for the team, the message that emotional and fiery coaches give out may work for a period of time, but it is likely to flatten over time. By the time they reach this level, NFL players have all had the yellers and screamers as coaches in the past; there are few expletive-laced tirades that they have not heard or seen. The drama of a chewing-out may have its desired effect for a while, but likely not for long.
I watched Mike McCarthy last year while we were having success in amassing a 13-3 record. His message to the team was always one of caution about getting satisfied with success. Similarly, when we had a bad loss, there were no tirades or invective-laced screaming. Mike had a good emotional intelligence about his team; a trait that continues to serve the Packers well.
Some of the best coaches appear to be the most capable of maintaining an even keel. We do not see large mood swings from Tony Dungy, from Dick Jauron (who just received an extension), from Lovie Smith, from Bill Belicheck, and – much to the charging of Philadelphia fans always looking for some passion – from Andy Reid. In many ways, these coaches are flatliners – they will maintain their demeanor and their nonemotional appearance no matter what the situation. And, in my opinion, that is an optimal demeanor for the profession that they are in.