The football, always, is the easy part of the job. By the time a coach — any coach — becomes a head coach in the NFL, he has more accrued knowledge in his field of study than any PhD. Look at Ben McAdoo’s resume: 10 jobs in 18 years, high school to pro, before he got the Giants’ job two years ago. That’s standard.
A man rises to that level, certain things are a given. He can speak in eloquent, advanced X-and-O dialogue. He isn’t afraid of the occasional — or the regular — 18-hour day. Think of the worst coach you’ve ever seen; that guy is still as wise about the whys, wherefores and nuances of football as almost anyone is at their jobs.
It’s the Other Stuff that gets in the way.
Ben McAdoo is learning about the Other Stuff now, in a hurry, the things that only a head coach deals with, the issues that aren’t part of any handbook on how to be a head coach.
“You can’t ever clean your desk off,” McAdoo said Friday morning, offering an ultra-rare and ultra-narrow peek behind his preferred veneer of all-business, all-the-time. “It stacks up pretty quickly.”
The Other Stuff can take form in a hundred different things, some of them small and forgettable, some of them as big as an 800-pound pink elephant that follows you from room to room, field to field.
The Odell Beckham Jr. situation is a perfect example of that. This was Friday; for the first time all week, the only Beckham questions McAdoo had to field were entirely about football. McAdoo looked so comfortable answering those questions you expected him to flip on a pair of slippers.
Until then, for the better part of five days, most of the inquiries McAdoo fielded about Beckham were related, one way or another, with Beckham’s having imitated a urinating dog on a football field in Philadelphia last Sunday. And, no: THAT isn’t part of any of those handbooks, either.
And each day, McAdoo showed a different face and lent a different voice to the issue: one day defiant, one day exasperated, one day falling on his sword, insisting that this is all a terrible reflection on him. If he survives in this job, in this league, he’ll get better at all of this. But it certainly isn’t the easy part of the job, or the fun part. And he doesn’t look especially comfortable with it yet.
“You’ve got principles,” McAdoo said Friday, “and you’ve got to hang your hat on them.”
At the end of the day, of course, McAdoo won’t be judged by how well he handles the Other Stuff except for the context in which those things either harm or help his team to victories. Todd Bowles learned that lesson the hard way. His first year with the Jets ended in disappointment but it also yielded 10 wins. Nobody thought the 2015 Jets were a 10-win team. A coach gets a lot of credit for that.
Twenty-one months later, it seems there’s a better chance Sammy Baugh will coach the Jets next season than Bowles. Other Stuff swallowed him whole last year: locker-room mutinies, player-on-player slander, his comatose press conference demeanor, his clock management …
(Ah, clock management, a subject that drives every football fan to distraction because it sometimes seems every football coach reads a game clock like it’s written in Chinese numerals. I asked a coach about this once. “I’ll never admit this, but fans almost always are better clock managers than coaches, especially young ones, because when we watch games on tape, it’s never in context of the clock. Meanwhile, EVERY game you watch is in that context. Of course you’re better at it.”)
Like Bowles, McAdoo had a glorious rookie season, won 11 games, and even if there were moments his inexperience seemed a burden to the team, you win 11 games you earn a lot of collateral. Or at least four games’ worth, since all it has taken is a bad playoff loss to the Packers and three dyspeptic setbacks to start this season for McAdoo to become a regular object of the fans’ … um, attention.
“I’m not someone who believes in being distracted,” McAdoo said, and it’s important to remember that. His offense may seem a mess, but he knows offense, that’s part of his PhD, logic says he’ll figure that out. It’s the Other Stuff. Bill Parcells didn’t have the luxury of an easy first season with the Giants. He went 3-12-1, and came within an eyeblink of getting whacked.
When he didn’t, he vowed one thing above all: “If I go down,” he said a few years ago, “I’m going to go down knowing I did everything in my power to make things right here.” He did that, of course, but it’s not like he could write the reasons why down in a handbook, either. You figure the Other Stuff out, eventually.
Or you don’t.
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