Being around 32 NFL coaches, you know some of them are always looking for an angle, anything to give their team an advantage in this age of parity. It’s the competitive nature of the business. So when the owners locked out the players, we knew that some coaches would break the no-contact rules. And sure enough five teams have already been fined because they were talking football strategy with their players.
“I’m not going to do anything to get our franchise in trouble,” said John Fox, first-year head coach of the Denver Broncos this week during the NFL meetings in New Orleans. “We’re all in the same boat and most of us wouldn’t be doing anything with the players this month anyway.”
Said another coach: “But there’s always the five-percent definition. The general thinking is that five percent of people tend to break or bend the rules out of a hundred.”
The last time there was a work stoppage, back in 1987, the “best cheaters” in the bunch might have been Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs. Not only was he coaching the Redskins, a strong union team, but he was also inspecting his scab players, maybe the NFL’s best group put together by his able GM Bobby Beathard and actually cutting it down to a respectable unit before those replacement games were played. The Redskins had the money to maintain two quality teams and a major reason why Washington won the Super Bowl that season was the fact that their replacement players went 3-0 in the regular-season while rivals like the Giants struggled.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he doesn’t envision the league signing replacement players this year.
Based on their rough and tumble, black-hole reputation, you would think the Raiders would be merry tricksters. But that isn’t owner Al Davis’s style. He’s a purist when it comes to rules and regulations even though decades ago his rivals forever accused him on filming their practices. Jets coach Walt Michaels became irritated during the 1982 playoffs when he accused Davis and the Raiders of listening in to his halftime talk and coaching instructions. The Raiders weren’t guilty and Michaels, whose team did win the game, ended up being fired.
Any Raider will tell you that Davis believes it is black mark on the entire league whenever a franchise gets caught cheating like the Patriots and Bill Belichick have in recent years. One of the worst things the Raiders did in the last 30 years was hiding a Plan B player overnight in a hotel so another team couldn’t find him to sign him.
“If I’m not there coaching and helping the players, I don’t see any benefits in talking to them over a cell phone about what they should be working on or practicing,” said Raiders coach Hue Jackson. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me to risk anything right now. I don’t see any advantage in it at all.”
There was talk in the coaching ranks in New Orleans this week about some coaches purchasing disposable cell phones, ones that the league office couldn’t trace, in order to keep in communication with their quarterbacks and other players who could be practicing in groups.
It sounded rather extreme.
“I’ve heard the same rumors,” Jackson said of the disposable phones.
“I can’t imagine a head coach really doing something like that,” the Chargers’ Norv Turner said.
“What I find really ridiculous about that is if my coach was thinking that way – using disposable cell phones – why on earth would he be telling anybody about it?,” said an NFC general manager. “If you’re going to break the rules, wouldn’t it be smart to keep it to yourself instead of telling someone how you are going to do it? If it was my coach, I would fire him for simply being stupid.”
Some coaches, like new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, simply can’t refrain from helping their players when they are adjusting to a new system.
Of course, a concern among the teams is that some of the players – there have been several arrests since the lockout – will take advantage of the fact that they will face no immediate discipline from Goodell during the lockout for criminal behavior. There is also the chance that some may party more than usual because there is no league-dictated drug testing during the lockout, either.
It’s understandable that some organizations are concerned about a few players using illegal drugs right now because with no testing, there’s no real fear of being caught. There is no doubt that some of these players are better off being in a locker-room setting and being judged by their peers and coaches on a daily basis. Whenever there is a new collective bargaining agreement, the owners will insist on even a stronger testing program, both for illegal and performance-enhancing drugs.
Turner said he wasn’t worried about his players and he also said that he really didn’t believe the Chargers had much of advantage over other teams because his players tend to remain in San Diego, plus he has a veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers.
“They can be out there running around, and Philip can be throwing, but it’s not going to be like a real practice or anything,” Turner said. “One of the best things I’ve heard is that we plan to reduce the OTA days in the future. I agree that the players need more of a break from the grind of offseason work.”
Now, don’t include Mike McCarthy, the Super Bowl winner, among the coaches wanting to see his Green Bay players less in the offseason. He’s already unhappy that he is missing valuable time with his young quarterbacks, Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell. And McCarthy really doesn’t want this lockout to last past the April draft.
The Packers have had so much success in signing undrafted rookie free-agents that McCarthy believes it could impact his future roster. Defensive stars like cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields weren’t drafted.
“I’m the kind of coach that likes to install his offense, everything we are going to do, during our mini-camps and OTAs,” McCarthy said. “I want the players to know that once they leave in June that I won’t be adding plays during training camp. That way when they return for camp, the rookies know what is expected of them and everyone has a fair shot at winning a job.”
Obviously, McCarthy wants this lockout to end yesterday.
On a lighter note, I wonder if Cowboys coach Jason Garrett will be fined for attending his quarterback’s wedding – Stephen McGee’s not Tony Romo’s – after the lockout began?