Menu

FOOTBALL

Column" Why NFL, college coaches look like the guys at the car wash instead of Tom Landry

There's a very good reason why coaches on NFL and college football sidelines this weekend are dressed exactly like the guys down at your car wash — or maybe it's the other way around.

There are actually 250 million or so rea$ons in the case of the NFL, and who knows how many more for college football teams, since most programs get to negotiate their own licensed apparel deal. It wasn't always like that, of course.

There are hats on the heads of more than half the coaches pictured in both halls of fame, as well as sports coats, ties and even the occasional bow tie completing the look. Some looked so distinct — Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys and Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant come to mind — that even decades later, you could identify them just by seeing their profiles.

Not the current guys, though.

"Tommy thought it was important to look business-like, yet he would be the first one to tell you clothes don't win games," said Alicia Landry, whose late husband was arguably the best-dressed NFL coach ever. "But at the very least, the players always knew where he was with a glance. All they had to do was look for the hat.

"Nowadays, and I hardly watch any games, they all look the same to me," she added. "Except for that one coach who always wears his hood up."

That would be New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, whose hoodie is on of the NFL's best sellers. But make no mistake — that has more to do with his success than his sense of fashion.

"The idea," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, "is fans see it on Sunday and buy it on Monday. But most of our coaches would rather wear a golf shirt and windbreaker than a suit and tie, anyway. Besides, these guys are so good they could probably coach in pajamas."

Don't even think about it.

Next season marks the 20th anniversary of one of the NFL's most questionable decisions: requiring its coaches to choose their sideline wardrobes each season from a selection laid out by the league's official apparel manufacturer, currently Nike. The league gets its royalties, the coaches get a stipend and the rest of us get eyesores, like Rex Ryan in a Jets' sweater vest big enough to double as a tent or Green Bay's Mike McCarthy in a down jacket that makes him look like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man — in green.

The last coach to work the sideline in a coat and tie was former 49ers coach Mike Nolan in 2007. He thought it would be a great way to pay tribute to his father, Dick, who roamed the same sideline from 1968-75. The NFL originally said no because Reebok, its supplier at the time, offered neither a sport coat or tie in its line with the logo. After three years of petitions, Nolan and then-Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, neither of whom is a head coach today, both got to wear NFL-sanctioned versions.

"No one's asked since," McCarthy said, "but we'd look into accommodating them if it could be worked out."

Fat chance of that happening.

Dan Reeves, who played for the Cowboys and was Landry's assistant before coaching in Dallas, New York, Denver and Atlanta, was the last coach to routinely don a coat and tie for games. He was grandfathered in on the 1993 agreement, but switched to polo shirts when he arrived in Atlanta in 1997.

"The Smith family owned the team at the time, and when we negotiated a contract, it was part of the deal," he said. "They were dead last in merchandising sales at the time, so I understood. They were trying to get the people in the stands to start wearing the gear ...

"But I got into the habit because of Tom Landry and I kept with it because, I believe, the coat and tie calmed me down. I'd get all riled up and start pulling on the coat or the tie, and then I'd remember how stately and in control coach Landry always looked. So I wonder," added Reeves, "if that wouldn't help some of the guys out there right now."

If that doesn't work, maybe some of today's coaches should solicit fashion advice from the people they trust most.

Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden's crisp white dress shirt and a sharp orange tie make him arguably the best-0dressed coach in the college game. He played for the late Joe Paterno at Penn State, himself one of the last throwbacks to the jacket-and-tie set. But when Golden got his first break as a head coach at Temple in 2006, he usually wore a sweat shirt.

One day he got a call. On the other end was his mom.

"Wear some pants and a shirt," she said.

Advice well worth heeding.

___

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.