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Monday, January 19, 2009

For a Football Coach, a Family Is a Wonderful Thing -- You Can Blame Them for Everything

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2009 at 9:59 AM

Over the weekend, Scott Linehan, the 49ers' preferred choice to coordinate the team's once-proud (read: Not so proud anymore) offense surprised the team by offering the thanks-but-no-thanks. Turning down the job was an eyebrow-raiser -- but not so much as the excuse he offered: "The timing isn't right for me. It's not an easy decision. I do

factor in where I'm going to end up with everyone here at home. ... My family is going to be 2,000 miles away for at least part of the time."

Ah, the family. Is there any responsibility you can't shunt on to it? Seriously, did Linehan's family materialize while he was on the flight from St. Louis to San Francisco? If he was worried about something so basic as where his three young boys are going to go to school, why even take the Niners up on their offer of a job interview, let alone a job?

Why? Easy. Because the "my family" excuse is a better one than "This organization's ownership is terrible" or "I think I can get a better, higher-paying job," or even "Coach Singletary dropped his pants in front of me." 

All of these are valid excuses, but the National Football League is evidently an organization where it's better to tell a respectful lie -- that everyone knows is a lie -- than offer honest feedback (in the same way you might be better off not talking about how incompetent your old boss was when speaking to your potential new boss -- you simply are in search of "new challenges.").

In the NFL, however, the "more time with my family" excuse is particularly trite. First of all, professional and college coaches are notorious gypsies -- it's hard to imagine a less rooted method of employment that doesn't involve working for the military or Ringling Brothers. Check the resume of any NFL coach -- he's got more stickers on him than Bugs Bunny's suitcase (for example: Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith coached the linebackers at Tulsa University from 1983-86; spent a year doing the same at Wisconsin in '87; then coached 'backers at Arizona State from '88 to '91; moved to Kentucky in '92; coached defensive backs at Tennessee from '93 to '94; and did the same at Ohio State in 95. Then he went professional! From 1996 to 2000, he coached linebackers for the Tampa Bay Bucs; from '01 to '03 he was St. Louis' defensive coordinator; and since 2004 he's led Chicago. Smith, by the way, has a relatively brief resume with only nine jobs in nine states in 20 years. He's just 50 years old, by the way). 

Also, while coaches are traipsing from state to state, their workloads are notoriously intense. Former Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden famously set his alarm for 3:17 a.m. and got to work by 4 -- but this kind of behavior is par for the course. "It does bother me because there are days he forgets to eat," said Gruden's friend and former Tampa staffer Mark Ortega. "It'll be 5 p.m., and I'll say, 'Coach, have you eaten?' And

he'll say, 'Ahhh, no.' (And then return to watching [game] film.) There are

days when I tell him to go home to his wife or she'll find a boyfriend."

Families, it would seem, only come up for coaches when they need convenient excuses -- usually for failure. Linehan's use of the fam to brush off a job is unusual, but the number of coaches who've cited a sudden desire to spend more time with the wife and kids as the reason for their abrupt resignation -- coincidentally, it would seem, after a disastrous campaign and a meeting with the owner -- is legion.

Has there ever been a coach who accepted an NFL job and used the excuse that now he could spend less time with his family? We're waiting. Our advice to all the single coaches out there: Get married and get procreating. Otherwise you'll have no one to blame but yourself.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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