Anyone who has spent five minutes around certain NFL head coaches could not have been shocked to hear that Nick Saban, the uptight and ferociously focused leader of the Miami Dolphins, blew off a recent dinner request from the President of the United States.
|Nick Saban's got more important things to do than dine with the president. (Getty Images)|
If Saban was making some sort of a political statement by punking POTUS, that actually would have been kind of cool. But that is not what Saban was doing. He basically told the president: Dude, I'm too busy. Catch me later. That would be remarkably funny, if it wasn't so awfully highfalutin of Saban, and so typical of an NFL coach.
At times coaches seem more out of touch with the real world than Lindsay Lohan.
Many coaches in professional football -- and increasingly college -- have always acted like they are better than us, smarter than us, more complete than us. That style of obnoxious behavior is increasingly getting worse. As their salaries and power grow, their humility shrinks.
Training camp is a tedious mess of redundant planning and constant practice of the same pedantic plays that were executed in minicamp, and the camp before that, and the camp before that. Saban is simply one of those coaches who enjoy counting jockstraps and playbooks the way Captain Queeg once inventoried strawberries. Blowing off Bush is just another form of this control, albeit an exotic one.
Coaches too often act as if they are creating Ben-Hur, when they are only coaching Ben Roethlisberger.
By the way, how exactly do you blow off the most important man in the world? How does such a conversation go?
"Hey Nick, it's the president."
"President of what?"
"Didn't you just sign with the Saints? I can't talk to you. That would be tampering."
"No. President Bush. Just wondering if you wanted to grab a bite to eat there buddy."
"You mean, now? During training camp? Are you crazy? Do you know we only have 843 practices left until the season opener?"
"Ah ... OK. Got this little Middle Eastern thing going, so whenever you can fit me in buddy."
"Let's see, Mr. Clinton, I can..."
"You can call me President Bush, by the way."
"Let me glance at my schedule here real quick President Clinton. I can fit you in between the Oklahoma drills and the seven-on-sevens. How is lunch from 1:07 to 1:09?"
"Two minutes for lunch?"
"It's good practice for the two-minute drill. What'd you say your name was again?"
Seriously, who do some of these coaches think they are?
You mean the leader of China can find time to meet with the president but a football coach cannot? World leaders and diplomats and Space Shuttle captains can pencil the prez in their BlackBerry, but a football coach is just too busy?
Hate Bush if you must (he seems to be as good a president as Gheorghe Muresan would be a runway model) or love him. Either way, can we get a little respect for the office of the presidency itself, please? Just asking, that's all.
Saban epitomizes the self-important NFL head coach. The sharp elbows, the disdain for the press, the swagger of someone who has ingested too many elixirs from college presidents and team owners who constantly tell him how great he is. And Saban is hardly alone in possessing a supreme-being complex. He is on a long list of NFL prima donnas -- not all head coaches are like this, but enough are -- with high blood pressure and low social skills as they micromanage the micromanagers and think what they do is the equivalent of creating a new type of nuclear fusion.
The next eight-hour night of sleep Jon Gruden gets will be one of his first. There is the extreme rigidity of Tom Coughlin. Joe Gibbs once slept in his office almost as much as he did his own home. Bill Parcells has the social skills of a python with bad allergies. There are coaches who feel it is beneath them to speak with fans and the press.
I will always respect a great many coaches because most I have encountered are good, decent men who have learned to tone down the arrogance, particularly some of the lower-level assistants. They also have a tough job. Coaches have to deal with an increasing number of athletes telling them: "You run the damn wind sprints, fat boy. I'm going home."
Coaches get fired regularly and divorced at high rates. The stress and pressure can blow their lives apart. I don't feel sorry for them; I know that firefighters, police officers and soldiers face life-threatening situations on a daily basis and get a fraction of the pay. It still does not erase how coaches are roasted hourly in the pressure cooker that is the NFL.
The head of the NFL Coaches Association, Larry Kennan, once told me that stress among coaches is "worse now than ever before."
Yet some of the actions of coaches are more about conceit than stress. Bill Belichick is the smartest and most-talented coach the NFL has ever seen because he created a dynasty in the salary-capped, me-first era of professional sports. He's better than Lombardi, better than Paul Brown, better than Noll. Yet his quarterback, Tom Brady, one of the elite stars in all of sports, misses three training camp practices and Belichick offers no explanation. Why? Because he can. Because he's uptight. Because he can be full of himself. Because he thinks it is his duty to hold back information from the public.
More coaches are behaving this way. That is not a good thing.
When asked by reporters covering the Patriots training camp would he meet with Bush during training camp, Belichick responded, "It wouldn't be very high on my list right now."
The fact Bush even has time to meet an NFL coach for lunch seems astounding. There's like, you know, a war on.
Still, 'ol George made the call, and Saban blew off POTUS. Just imagine the seismic shift in the size of Saban's already sizeable ego should the Dolphins coach actually win a few games.