New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw surprised a lot of people this past Sunday when he openly argued with head coach Tom Coughlin over getting the ball with the game on the line. While he wouldn’t be a starter if his ability was suspect, openly challenging a coach is walking a fine line and practically asking to get benched.
As a coach you want fired up players who demand the ball in crunch-time situations. The best players make their biggest plays when their teams need it most. It’s much better than fumbling (See: Williams, Kyle, and McCourty, Devin). It also requires a lot of your teammates’ trust too. Eli Manning could have easily audibled out of the play call in question and gotten away with it if he also didn’t like or trust Bradshaw. Not even Coughlin is going to argue with a two-time SuperBowl MVP. Kudos to the Giants for trusting each other as a unit, because that’s what it looks like when a team gels together on the field. Not everyone is so lucky, especially with a veteran coach like Coughlin.
At the end of the day every argument in football is inevitably settled on the field by making plays. You either do or don’t, so put up or shut up. Rookie running back David Wilson fumbled early in the Giants first game of the year. He made an honest but critical error and found himself without a carry for weeks afterwards. Success is its own reward, but disobedience and critical errors amount to character flaws. Remember Giants punter Matt Dodge punting the ball to DeSean Jackson of the Eagles (against Coughlin’s orders) on the final play of an incredibly tight game in December of 2010? Jackson took it to the house to win the game in what is called the New Miracle at Meadowlands. Coughlin gave him an earful immediately. In 2011 Dodge was no longer with the team.
Some coaches don’t mean to yell, that’s just how they talk. Hugs, handshakes, flying chest bumps, seven-syllable handshakes, Gatorade baths, slaps on the rear…body language is a big part of the game. A few weeks ago Jay Cutler cursed out his tackle J’Marcus Webb on the sideline after some weak play, raising a lot of eyebrows. Chances are Cutler was trying to fire him up, as often teammates jawing at one another are challenging each other to step up and redeem themselves. Perhaps Cutler has seen Webb play better in practice against tougher competition and let him know about it. Some guys can’t wait for the first hit of a game to get them in the right frame of mind. Others need a good ear whipping to wake up and refocus mid-quarter.
Infighting isn’t reserved for players by any means. Co-ordinator feuds and coach fights play out on a daily basis (see: Cable, Tom). I clearly remember an argument between two receiver coaches nearly coming to blows in practice when I was in college. Everybody wants to win, but not everybody agrees on how to do it.
The only thing wors than arguing on the sidelines is fighting in the huddle. That’s not even tolerated from veterans. Look at what happened to Santonio Holmes when he argued with his New York Jets teammates on the field during the fourth quarter last year. He’s supposed to be a Captain, and yet it was Mark Sanchez and the rest of the offense who had to send him to the bench. Between a quarterback trying to call a formation and a play, get aligned, make his pre-snap read, call a possible audible, and then get the snap count BEFORE the running play clock expires, there’s no time to screw around when the game is down to a handful of plays. Trust, execution, and results. Anything else is blasphemy to the coach and mutiny against your teammates.
Coaches ultimately care about winning. Right or wrong, argument or head slap, winning trumps everything. Trust your teammates and have faith in yourself. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of pro sports, you’re only as good as your last play. Now shut up and make it a good one or it could be your last game.
Luke Purm is a freelance writer and former college football player (a wide receiver at Simon Fraser University) with an inside look at the sights and sounds from the huddle, down the field, through the air, in the endzone, under the pile, out of the locker room, on the scoreboard, and everywhere else football sweats, smells, yells, breathes and collides with life. Follow him on Twitter.