National Columnist

Enough with the stupid postgame handshakes already


No more midfield handshakes. No more insincere shows of postgame sportsmanship, and not because coaches can't handle it.

They can't -- but that's not the point.

The point is, men like Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz shouldn't be expected to handle it. Not within seconds of seeing an entire week of work validated in victory -- or shot down in defeat. Not with the media vultures circling at midfield, cameras pointed like sharp little claws, waiting to latch onto any bit of emotion. Not with the stakes as high as stakes are these days for football coaches, at the college or pro level.

This isn't youth-league soccer, and the winner isn't going out for pizza afterward. Winners at this level, whether it's big-time college football or the NFL, get to feel euphoric -- and safe -- about their multi-million job for another week. Losers get to feel national humiliation, and fear the worst.

And that's the moment -- that's the exact moment -- that we expect a fiery guy like 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and a fiery guy like Lions coach Jim Schwartz to meet at midfield for a postgame handshake? That's not simply stupid. That's insane.

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That's one of those empty gestures meant to make other people feel good, a "how're you doing" to a stranger whose answer doesn't register because you've already walked past. You don't ask some guy outside Target how he's doing because you care how he's doing. You ask him that because as a kid you saw your parents do it, so now you do it. But the worst thing that could happen to you, at that moment, would be for the stranger outside Target to actually tell you how he's doing, about his health and marital woes, about the fact that he's standing outside Target because he's hoping a nice person such as yourself -- hey, you asked how he's doing -- could spare a few bucks for lunch.

Empty gestures are the worst, and that's all the postgame handshake is in football. It's empty. And it's the worst. It's something done from duty, not desire, and don't you dare tell me it's a teaching moment for the kids out there. By the time the game ends, the kids out there already have learned how to strut into the end zone after taunting the nearest defender, and how to make a 12-yard catch and celebrate as if they've struck oil on the field, and how to stare down a running back after tackling him for a 2-yard gain.

The kids aren't learning anything remotely useful during the game, so let's not pretend the teachable moment will come after the game, OK? It certainly didn't come Sunday after the 49ers defeated the Lions, and Harbaugh in his intense delirium shook Schwartz's hand -- and then clapped him on the back like a drunken clod, knocking the former college linebacker off balance.

Schwartz, offended and rightfully so, charged after Harbaugh to let him know to never, ever do that again. Maybe you think Schwartz was too sensitive, maybe not, but I can assure you of this:

Harbaugh will never, ever do that again.

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So I take it back -- there was a learning moment, after all.

Let's quit while we're ahead, shall we? Let's do away with the postgame handshake. The winning coach might enjoy it for gloating purposes, but the loser hates it and often lashes out, as Akron's Rob Ianello lashed out at Ohio State's Luke Fickell after the Buckeyes' 42-0 victory on Sept. 3. Still stinging from the blowout, angry that the Buckeyes had their top two tailbacks on the field for the final drive -- not remembering and maybe even not knowing that the Buckeyes had only two tailbacks for the game -- the Akron coach used the postgame handshake to chastise the Ohio State coach.

"I don't think that's real good sportsmanship," Ianello scolded Fickell, "but good luck the rest of the year."

It was a stupid thing to say, and it was caught by the media jackals at midfield, and then it was expounded upon by other media jackals who weren't there at midfield but, through the wonder of modern technology, were able later to watch the exchange for themselves and then write something snarky about it.

Rob Ianello was a baby on Sept. 3, just like Jim Harbaugh was an oafish dolt on Sunday, and we could sit here and wring our hands and wonder why coaches aren't as classy as they used to be. Or we could acknowledge that even in the good ol' days, coaches weren't always classy after a game.

And the pressure has only intensified. Coaching salaries are enormous, the media attention is ravenous, and the patience of ownership is thin. Add it up, and the instant after a defeat -- imagine the emotions after a last-second defeat, or worse, a 42-0 blowout -- is just about the worst time all week for the coach of one team to speak to the coach of another.

But that's what we expect from coaches. That's the way it's always been done, dating to the days when the coach wore a three-piece suit and owned the team himself, and the players worked offseason jobs to pay their bills, and the media shielded the men they covered from negative attention.

That's the way it was.

Let's not pretend that's the way it still is.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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