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Coaches Calendar Part II: Four Reasons We Are Interested in NFL Head Coaches

At dinner the other night, a friend said "NASCAR is the most popular sport in America."

 "Noooo...." I said. I paused.

I wanted say "no amount of you not wanting football to be number one can or will change the numbers. Professional football is unequivocally the most popular sport in the U.S."

Instead, I kept it light.

"Football reigns supreme. While NASCAR is popular in certain places and to some demographics, think about it—football is on every Sunday, Monday night and now Thursday. College Game Day is where it's at. And as I wrote in my Caliente Coaches Calendar I believe Americans can name more head coaches than US Senators or Congressmen and women." Perhaps they are one significant reason we love the game so much. Thoughts?

Football has remained the country's most popular sport since 1972. As written in Football Still Most Popular Sport in America Despite Controversies

In 1960, 34 percent of Americans said baseball was their favorite sport, compared to 21 percent for football and 9 percent for basketball. Baseball has since lost ground to football and basketball. And now soccer is now almost as popular as baseball in America.

Despite its troubles, football remains the most popular sport in America. And the NFL is a mega-industry. In 2022, the combined value of the NFL's 32 teams was a whopping $142 billion, according to Forbes. If the NFL were a country, by virtue of the value of its teams alone, it would rank as the 56th largest economy — above countries like Croatia, Ecuador, and Kuwait.

I am confident extensive analysis and research has been done to explain "the why." Why we love this game, why it captures our time, attention and wallets. We can all probably name a few good reasons. Are coaches one of them?  Maybe. The purpose of this post is to take a deeper look at that. Why are we drawn to these leaders. We love them and we bemoan them. They are household names. Some people even create a passion project that profiles them! 

Before we begin, I do think it worth mentioning that noting the NFL's popularity does not mean it is above reproach. Greed and power, exploitation and violence associated with the game are frightening. I do not dismiss these problems. I believe critical analysis or concern is necessary. The game is not entirely tone deaf. Some changes have been made; other are barely even a work in progress. In spite of it all, I remain a fan.

Back to coaches....

Last year, my own Dad said to me last year, "I realized at one point in the season, my favorite Forty Niner is actually a coach. I asked myself "Is this okay?" My father was talking about  Niners' (former) defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans. I said, "Wow, that was a team with a ton of talent on both sides of the ball." And still, I replied "Dad, I get it. I love it. I can see why." 

Ryans, who is now with the Houston Texans, was one of five new head coaches for the 2023-2024 NFL season. A former player, he was selected with the first pick in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft; he was taken 33rd overall. In the role of the Niners D.C., he was relentlessly positive—smiling and communicating directly with his guys. He was excellent at his job, not to mention tremendously fit. It's no wonder he got promoted and made the calendar. 

My interest in people like Ryans, what it takes to become a head coach, and how they handle the spotlight (and press conferences) sparks intrigue. Coaching is an art and a science. How one leads and why they do are worth discussion and easy to debate. Who gets hired and why others get fired are not neutral matters. People are passionate about football. 

And speaking of passion, this summer I undertook my own passion project that centered around NFL coaches. Thanks something I did—just for the joy of it—I can name all 32 coaches and fun facts about 12 of them. I think and hope I could name 32 men or women in the House or Senate; however, that might be optimistic. 

So what gives? Why do we care? Why do we know about these men? Why are they household names Why are we fascinated by them. Here are a few thoughts.

The Headset
Let's start with the obvious. That head set is much more than an accessory. Is it a symbol of power? prestige? I'll let you answer it. However, it is part of the allure. When they put it on and rip it off are an extension of the game. In the same way we know a doctor via the stethoscope, we know high level football coaches by the headset. 

They're Young:
Unlike the two popular candidates for President and other high profile leaders in government, the majority of NFL coaches are young—quite young. Last year, when Tom Brady was still in the league, at the age of 44, he was older than 40% of the head coaches. In fact, he was older than four of the seven opposing head coaches remaining in the playoffs— including all three opposing NFC coaches.

This year, the average age of a head coach in the NFL is 48.5. For the seventh consecutive year, Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams—is the youngest coach in the league. You can do the math— yes, he was just 30 years and 11 months old when the Rams hired him. And, Pete Carroll is the elder statesman at 71. Everyone will admit: he looks fabulous. 

Youth is not wasted on the young in the NFL. While experience is important, a diagnostic of those in charge of each team points to the truth—owners believe that younger leaders are just as capable. They are ready to perform, to lead and to meet the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual demands of the game. They have to be...the financial stakes are just too high. For those of us who are fans, it's refreshing and it's inspiring to see newer, younger faces in the fold.

They Lead:
This has to be both the spoken and unspoken truth. I think we are intrigued by coaches because they do something many of us don't want to do: they lead. They take a stand. They call the shots. Their mistakes are very public but their victories are even more!

I will speak for myself. I know so many people who do not want to take on the responsibility that leadership demands of us—often times, including me. It's tough to be the fall guy or fall girl. We know that leaders are constantly criticized, both publicly and privately. How? Why? Because quite often we are the ones launching the critiques and complaints. I know a lot of very talented MMQBs! 

However, I think we want to see real leadership. We want someone who will stand up and take risks. I am certain that many coaches feel pressure to do things along their "party lines" (read: what a GM or owner dictates) but for a team to win, it takes more than pure talent. It takes a head coach. We have seen how often they can and do turn a program around. It's interesting. It's inspiring. It's important!

They're Interesting:
The personal lives of coaches are seldom boring. For example, this week my students leanred that Robert Saleh became a coach because of his brother's experience in the South Tower on 9/11. Upon his survival, Saleh decided to leave his own job and pursue his passion. We can all applaud the courage that took! Watch the video here.

Many coaches are role models of professional and personal discipline. Yes, a good percentage of  NFL head coaches were former great athletes, while others came to the game because of their passion for it. They are talented, charismatic, dynamic and more. These are but a few reasons why we find NFL coaches so attractive. And they are...

In Conclusion:
This year, I'm not convinced that my Dad's favorite member of the Notre Dame football team  isn't the head coach, Marcus Freeman. While Irish fans love our running back, Audric Estime and our 24 year old QB, Sam Hartman, I know my Dad cheers from "Coach Free" as much as anyone. 

A sport like NASCAR doesn't really have the position of head coach in its system. While it's certainly popular and a subculture worth exploring, it's not football....American football for your soccer fans. Personally, I'm encouraged by the growing popularity of football among women. 24% of women self describe at avid fans ad 35% as casual fans (vs. 51% of men who are avid fans and 30% who are casual fans). The numbers of women and men who follow the game—paying attention to it, the players, rivalries, coaches and more make for a great conversation around the water cooler...or whatever our gathering place and space is today.

Photo Credits
Saleh



source https://sportsandspirituality.blogspot.com/2023/09/coaches-calendar-part-ii-four-reasons.html

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