Cash. Computers. Conditioning. These are just three of the things that have radically changed the world of an NFL head coach in the past three decades.
It’s not your father’s NFL, a point Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin — whose father Monte is a 25-year NFL coaching veteran — readily points out.
“You see a lot less old-school, hardnosed ‘my way or the highway’ coaching because players now are just different than they were when my father started out,” says the 33-year-old Kiffin. “That’s what [Monte Kiffin] says. Coaching back then, players just wanted to play. They just loved playing football. Now so much more goes into it and they make so much money that you have to find different ways to motivate them. The two things that motivate them are playing time and money.
“If you can get them better they’re gonna listen because that gets them to play more so they can make more money on the next contract,” Kiffin adds. “The love of the game … they’re playing as much for the money and that’s where you have to interact so much with your players and understand them and see what motivates them.”
For coaches trying to build continuity and ensure their teams play in unison, the fact that players are more mercenary is a negative.
It is for fans, too. Players don’t sink roots in a community like they may have before free agency dawned in 1993. Spending an entire career in the same city is rare (ask Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas or that Favre guy about it). Now more than ever, fans are conditioned to root for the laundry as opposed to individual players.
The average player salary in 1970 was $23,000 according to Forbes.com. In 1991, it was $483,000. In 2008, it will be around $2.2 million. Good work if you can get it.
But that doesn’t make it easier for coaches. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren acknowledges the change all the cash has caused. But he doesn’t bow to it.
“It’s changed the players, the coaches and the game,” says Holmgren who’s been a head coach since 1992. “But I don’t think you have to give in necessarily. I’ve been in the league for 25 years, and before that I coached high school. My approach to players hasn’t changed. I’m hands-on and I’ll talk to any player one-on-one. I choose to do it the way I’ve always done it.”
Because players increasingly view themselves as independent contractors, they tend make sure their No. 1 asset — their body — is in good working order.
“These guys are in shape year-round,” Kiffin says. “Pete Carroll [USC head coach and former head coach of the Jets and Patriots] and I were talking this morning about how overrated two-a-days are. These guys are in such good shape compared to in the past, guys in the offseason got out of shape and training camp was really long and really hard to get guys back into shape. It was like a fat farm. But now guys are coming to camp in game shape at camp. The risk-reward of long practices [is gone]. You can’t risk the injuries.”
“They get so much money right away so they aren't striving to say, ‘I have to do everything right because I have to play 10 years and make enough money because I don’t know what I’m going to do after football,” Kiffin explains. “So many of these guys get so much money in their first, second or third year that the money factor isn’t about supporting their family.”
Interestingly, none of the coaches I spoke with mentioned the in-game changes — challenges, two-point conversions, dealing with changing rules or “points of emphasis.” Nor did any mention dealing with the mushrooming number of media outlets — TV, radio, print and Internet — providing wall-to-wall coverage of their teams. Most spent more time speaking on the process how merely coaching players continues to evolve.
Technology is a major part. In any NFL locker room, you can see players with laptops viewing digital cutups of what they’ll be dealing with that week.
If you’re a quarterback, you may have a DVD of every third-and-long defense an opponent’s used for the past four weeks. If you’re a defensive back, you’re seeing decisions made by quarterbacks against different coverages and looking where the ball will go in different situations.
PFT: Defensive end finally finds a new team in San Diego — and for a honey of a deal that would be worth a max of $13.35 million.
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