NFL Coaching 101: Poetic pressers and the hot seat myth

NFL Coaching 101: Poetic pressers and the hot seat myth
December 16, 2013, 9:15 am
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The reason Bill Belichick isn't on 'the hot seat' is because of how he carries himself during press conferences. (AP)

Jim Harbaugh's NFL career has been highlighted by eloquent press conferences and tempered on-field demeanor. (AP)

There’s never really a time when a coach isn’t subject to the idiotic notion of “the hot seat,” a brainless cliché going back to the days of execution by electric chair that suggests that any coach can be fired at any time for any reason.

Well, that’s absurd. I mean, if you’re not going to actually electrocute them, what’s the good of talking about a hot seat in the first place?

But more to the point, we as a nation have shown remarkable impatience on the application of the hot seat, misunderstanding at every turn when a coach is actually heat-seated. Most of the time, they’re actually not on any chair that isn’t leather-bound and placed behind the head coach’s desk.

Second, a coach is rarely on the plate for long. The day an owner finally starts listening to talk radio or reading the Internet for anything other than the traffic or pictures of cats in Santa suits is the day that owner actually wants to fire the coach and is just hoping someone else will articulate a reason to make it palatable to the other talk shows or corners of the Internet.

Plus, it’s lazy journalism born of the 24/7 “well, we have to talk about something, and blaming the middle management yutz is always easy” news cycle. In soccer, a manager is allowed about a month of bad results before he gets smoked. In baseball, it’s getting easier because owners are trying to hold those salaries down so they’ll have more to throw at some 33-year-old setup man who had a nice August. In basketball, it happens when the superstar/highest-paid player is fed up. And in hockey, it happens on Thursday.

Thus, when Jerry Jones flaps his yap about not giving a weekly vote of confidence to Jason Garrett in Dallas, or Lawrence Taylor proclaims that Tom Coughlin’s sell-by date has been reached in New York, we think that means something. It does not. After all, Garrett, Rex Ryan in new York, Ron Rivera in Carolina, Joe Philbin in Miami, Greg Schiano in Tampa and Gus Bradley in Jacksonville were proclaimed toe-tagged and black-bagged for sure, and now are either likely or dead certain to last another year.

And even Mike Shanahan, whose season in Washington came straight from Satan’s esophagus, might be forced to coach the last year of his contract if he intends not to be stiffed by a second owner in his career. That’s not a hot seat – that’s a block of ice.

The point is, we throw out the term “hot seat” like it has some validity, and most of the time it is as useless as arguing about the Heisman Trophy, who gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame, or the standards for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award. Those things operate on their own inertia, not the imposition of media-gamed catch phrases – unless, as in the case of the Sportsman of the Year award, the catch phrase is “How can we sell a lot of magazines?”

Besides, any owner who waits for a coach’s seat to get hot is an idiot. Coaching is a binary state. You are the coach until your owner wants you not to be the coach, and the moment that happens, an owner who waits to heat up the chair is a fool. Once your mind is made up, waiting an extra minute is simply waste. Gary Kubiak’s fall in Houston was relatively swift and rare as these things go, and even then it was four weeks of “What are you waiting for, Bob?” aimed at owner Bob McNair.

This is why the Shanahan mess is so perfectly Washington. Danny Snyder keeps him around presumably until he can contrive a way not to pay him his last season’s salary, while the team descends into a side-splitting wintry hell that amuses the nation as much as it agitates the Beltway. Couldn’t happen to a nicer pack of hyenas.

As opposed, that is, to the 31 other packs of hyenas with their own issues with whoever the coach is at any given moment.

And here’s the dirtiest little secret of all. The idea that someone in the NFL can “coach ‘em up” is ultimately nonsense. Four things in combination win in this sport – talent, health, strength of schedule and getting jobbed by an official’s call only once a year, twice tops. Most coaches, even Chip Kelly, have to exist within those fairly strict parameters, and there isn’t a huge difference between any of them, save stylistically.

And when we say “stylistically,” we mean, “Does he give good pressers?” This apparently means something to us despite the fact that we know they are largely choreographed lie-fests and stonewall parties designed mostly to kill 15 minutes on the NFL Network. They are typically chock-full with banalities that people can parse into logical trampolines that are designed to see if said coach can then be put “on the hot seat,” and they are largely traps set for a coach who cannot win them. Ryan tried to entertain at his, which was great while his teams won, but made him into a pathetic and an unworthy when they didn’t.

You know who gets how to do pressers? Bill Belichick, because he has actually mastered the art of the invisible middle finger at the entire system. He’s become so underwhelming/unpleasant/unhelpful at these things that his pressers have become must-see TV for the nothing they provide. He couldn’t be better at them if he simply answered, “I hate you; go die in the snow” to every question. In fact, that would ruin them because it would mean he put some effort into the answers at all, which he doesn’t.

But pressers are part of the game that isn’t, just like the hot seat. They endlessly amuse even though they never reveal, and they largely mislead or just bore us. They are a perfect metaphor for the entire NFL structure – “We will give you baking soda, and you will beg hysterically for more because you have convinced yourself it’s actually top grade Peruvian flake.”

Oh, and I think with that win over the Eagles, Leslie Frazier might be off the hot seat in Minnesota. Depends on his presser today.