NFL Coaches Take a Gentler Approach

Unlike many coaches of yesteryear, the Redskins' Joe Gibbs puts a lot of responsibility for a loss on himself. But does that let players off the hook?
Unlike many coaches of yesteryear, the Redskins' Joe Gibbs puts a lot of responsibility for a loss on himself. But does that let players off the hook? (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 6, 2005

Sam Huff not only played for Vince Lombardi, the Hall of Fame coach with the Vesuvian temper and a profane vocabulary, he was a defensive assistant for him. He knows only too well how Lombardi, who coached the Washington Redskins in 1969, would have prepared for a game the week after his team suffered a lopsided loss to a traditional rival in a midseason game for first place in the division.

"Here's what Lombardi would have said," Huff said this week in the wake of the Redskins' 36-0 loss last week to the New York Giants. "It would have been something like: 'You guys stunk so bad, I won't even embarrass you by showing you the film. You not only got embarrassed, you embarrassed me and you embarrassed this organization. Now we're going to go back to work this week, and we're going to work hard. And I promise you, that won't happen to this team again.'

"The first thing you have to know is that everyone thought Lombardi gave inspirational pregame talks. But it was the postgame talks you always remembered, and the last place you wanted to be was in that locker room after a loss. He was steamed, and he did not talk about forgetting about it, like they do now."

Thirty-six years later, the syllabus in NFL Coaching 101 generally calls for a kinder, more measured approach than volatile, profane tirades often employed by coaches in the past. As the Redskins (4-3) prepare to face the Philadelphia Eagles (4-3), coming off a similar 49-21 disaster against the Denver Broncos, in another critical NFC East game tonight at FedEx Field, nary a harsh word apparently has been spoken in private or public by either team's head coach.

In fact, postgame comments by Joe Gibbs and Philadelphia's Andy Reid have been remarkably similar in tone and substance.

Gibbs on Sunday: "Something like that starts with me. . . . It was all of us together."

Reid on Monday: "In everything it's my responsibility. It's my football team. It's a reflection of me."

Gibbs on Monday: "I always think it's ultimately my responsibility. I always start with myself. I haven't done a good job if we play a game like that. . . . You tell them, 'Here's the good, here's the bad.' It's a common-sense thing. This was disappointing for all of us."

Reid on Wednesday: "We're obviously teachers. We try to teach our players and our coaches, learn from our mistakes and move on. We've got to right our wrongs and do better, and we all understand that."

Players on both teams this week insisted there had been no screaming behind closed doors or on the practice field, that both coaches and their assistants went through the game tape with them on Monday not to point fingers but simply to correct mistakes. By the time both teams hit the field Wednesday for their first major practice in preparation for tonight's nationally televised game, as Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss said: "It's not trying to worry about last week. It's over."

It's an approach that generally has been employed throughout the league for a number of years. And the most consistently successful coaches are generally those who can pick up the pieces after blowout losses and somehow get their teams on track to win again -- immediately, and in the long-term as well.

Mike Nolan, San Francisco's first-year coach, did it for the first time last week, getting the 49ers to rebound from a 52-17 loss to the Redskins with a 15-10 victory over Tampa Bay last Sunday. In the 49ers' FedEx Field locker room after the Redskins game, Nolan said he asked his players if they were still with him.

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