October 26, 2016
People are up in arms over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick yet again — not just because he continues to kneel in protest during the national anthem, but because of the revelation that he didn’t vote in last week’s election. If he wants to be an agent for change, he certainly lost some credibility by not inspiring people to get out to the polls and do something about it. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans said he was specifically protesting Trump’s election by kneeling during the anthem this past weekend, even though he also claimed he did not vote. I think Florida was a pretty close race, wasn’t it?
But the football-meets-politics story that’s most ridiculous is Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s admission that he was unaware election day even took place. “We’re focused on other things here,” he said. It’s a little concerning that this guy is serving as a leader for student athletes. Imagine trying to credibly tell players to focus on school work — or anything other than football — when you’re too busy drawing up Xs and Os to miss this kind of news. Of course, this is the same person who said, “We need to get some more guys who can play winning football” after a 52-6 victory over USC earlier this year.
Saban is a heck of a coach, but perhaps not the most well-rounded role model. And unfortunately, this seems to be the way more and more football coaches approach their job.
Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, for example, had surgery to fix a torn retina in his eye recently — only at the insistence of team doctors who told him he was risking going blind. Of course, he went straight back to work after the procedure and then slept in his office overnight after watching hours of game film, against doctors’ orders.
Being a football coach at the college or professional level seemingly means giving up everything else during the season. They’re literally concentrating on football every moment of every day. My question: is all this time spent working truly helping them, or do they feel like they need to do it for perception reasons?
I don’t know how to buck this coaching culture or help them overcome the fear of losing to someone who has put in more hours. But I saw a feature on legendary coach Bud Grant last week, which detailed the time he spent with his family and the hunting/fishing excursions he’d routinely take the day before a game. He led a relatively normal, balanced life and was a successful coach in the process.
I like to see my teams win, but I’m not convinced 20-hour work days are a prerequisite. Today’s coaches ought to take a page from Bud’s playbook and dial it back a few notches. Step out of this self-imposed isolation chamber. Take care of the things most likely to win or lose games and then go live your life. Show up every day a little more energized, focused and creative.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see someone take this approach and prove it can be effective? I think Nick Saban is the perfect candidate to lead the charge. Perhaps he’d be a bit more likable if he refrained from searching for better players after 52-6 wins and picked up a newspaper once in a while.