John Madden has not said many things about football that seem important to remember. Which is odd, considering the years he spent in the NFL’s bully TV pulpit, and his standing even in retirement as a prominent analyst/pitchman/video-game brand.
The essence of his commentary has always been more about the game’s images and feelings than hard opinions: the chunk of sod in the facemask, the steam off the bald head of a beaten-down nose tackle on a wintry late afternoon, or the Thanksgiving turducken.
So it rings through the din when Madden gives us a football thought worthy of attention, especially one that hits home.
On Sunday night, 49ers coach Mike Singletary made a point of pulling aside struggling quarterback Alex Smith on the sideline and screaming in his face. This was not a pregame locker-room war cry to the team, nor a rant to an official in an effort to influence a call — it was an attempt to publicly intimidate or embarrass a professional athlete.
And Madden said, “That’s not coaching.”
“That’s something that, a lot of things go on in a game that you’re not proud of as a coach,” Madden told KCBS Radio. “That’s really not part of coaching, that’s sometimes I worry about that. I see youth football and I see high school football and coaches yelling at players and I cringe when I see it. I think people get the picture that’s what coaching is and believe me, that’s not what coaching is.”
Not only is he calling out Singletary, he is torpedoing the screaming, mustachioed phantom that has haunted Chicago sports opinion for over twenty years.
Remember, too many fans here have clamored for Singletary to rejoin the Bears when coaching positions have opened. The desire to employ him is never based on any actual qualifications or credentials, but on his connection to past glory and his famous intensity as a player — he’d restore the Ditka days by confronting players and “getting in their face.”
(Never mind that Ditka’s inability to control his emotions and manage his celebrity helped a potential dynasty crumble all too quickly. His own sideline tongue-lashing of Jim Harbaugh in Minneapolis is not something recalled fondly by smart fans. And his stint with the Saints is best not recalled at all)
Madden continued. “That’s not what it is. You have to coach, you have to teach, you have to strategize, you have to encourage. That’s what coaching is, not the opposite.”
We can debate all day the positives and negatives of Lovie Smith as Bears head coach, as we often seem to do. There are numerous, legitimate reasons to find fault with the job he has done to this point in his seventh season on the job. But too much criticism of Smith is still based on him not being Ditka, and not embodying the projected feelings of fans as does, say, Singletary.
Madden’s point is clear and simple. NFL coaches are not fans, and they are not over-caffeinated radio talk-show hosts unleashing their latest thought on the nearest target. They have a job to do that is much more nuanced and complicated than many seem to appreciate.
This city learned some wrong lessons from a successful coach decades ago. Let’s unlearn them.