Coaches get their way in rule changes

BY foxsports • March 24, 2011

In the movie "Network", news anchor Howard Beale screamed to anyone who would listen that he was "mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore."

Flashback to one year ago, when NFL head coaches felt they had successfully lobbied against any change in the league’s overtime rule. Out they went to play in their annual golf outing. Somewhere midround, word made it out to the golf course that the owners met in private session and passed the new two-possession overtime rule.

I was at the golf course playing with the coaches that day, and I must say the group was livid. They felt they had been taken advantage of. Some of them blamed me, as the former NFL vice president of officiating, saying that I shepherded them out to the course just so commissioner Goodell could get this done.

Not true. I was just as surprised as they were. Any vote was scheduled for the next day. In 2010, the competition committee won the first bout.

Well, paybacks are a bitch. In a WWE-style smackdown, the head coaches in 2011 took down the owners and the competition committee. It was a decisive win. The coaches really weren't in a very good mood this year, and they won all three contested rounds.

Round 1: The committee rewrote the rule regarding defenseless players and added a few things. The rule proposal extended the protection to the receiver after making the catch, but before he had time to protect himself. There was also a new provision that made it illegal for a player to launch and deliver a blow with his helmet or face mask.

Coaches objected. They weren't pleased with the lack of clarity as to what is or what is not a foul under this new proposal. They don't like the statement in the rule book that states, "if in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactics, the covering official should call unnecessary roughness."

In other words, the officials are told to err on the side of safety. The coaches feel the consequences of an error are too severe. Ultimately, the coaches objected to this rule’s lack of clarity.

The result? The proposal was tabled. Tabled is another way of saying it failed or was going to fail. It will be reintroduced at the May owners meeting, maybe.

Round 1 to the coaches.

Round 2: The competition committee wanted to make kickoffs safer. They proposed five rule changes that would lead to, among other things, fewer returns. They wanted to eliminate two-man wedges. They wanted a touchback to take the ball out to the 25 yard-line.

Coaches objected again. They wanted to keep the two-man wedge so the returner might have some protection when he was headed upfield. They wanted the touchback to go to the 20 instead of the 25.

The result? They got back the wedge. They also got the touchback back to the 20, although I think they double-crossed themselves. That, to me, took away the kicker's incentive to kick it high and short and try to keep the return short of the 25. Now the clear incentive is to kick the ball as far as you can.

Round 2 goes to the coaches. The rule passed with these amendments.

Round 3: The committee proposed that all plays that are ruled a score would be reviewed by the replay assistant. The coach would not have to use a challenge. In return, the third challenge that a coach received if he won his first two would be taken away.

Coaches said thanks, but no thanks. They like the replay assistant review but they wanted their third challenge.

The result? They got back their possible third challenge to go along with the scoring reviews.

Round 3 also goes to the coaches.

The fight ended in a unanimous decision. I have never seen this before. The coaches even convinced the owners to reject a player safety proposal.

Might be a good idea in the future to avoid sending coaches out to the golf course if the NFL owners hope to get something done.



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