Wednesday November 19th, 2008

You can look back into athletic antiquity, and the professional dress of baseball managers and basketball and hockey coaches have not changed a whit. The baseball bosses still, as ever, garb themselves in uniforms, just like their players. On the court and by the rink, basketball and hockey coaches wear proper suits and ties, sport coats and slacks, no less than did their dignified predecessors all during the twentieth century. Of course, NBA coaches are the clothes horses of the profession. Indeed, these Beau Brummels have signed a deal to work only in custom attire designed by Joseph Abboud. But the larger point is: in baseball, basketball and hockey coaches honor their fathers, garment-wise.

But oh, not so on the gridiron. Football coaches today dress entirely different from their natty predecessors. Until, as best as I can tell, sometime in the 1980s, football coaches dressed like gentlemen, who appeared to be merely stopping off at the stadium on their way to church. Coats and ties, absolutely. Stylish camel-hair overcoats were favored when the weather turned chilly. And, oh the male millinery. I can still see Paul Brown in a snappy straw number. Bear Bryant in his perennial houndstooth. Tom Landry's little fedora that bordered on your pork-pie. These, my friends, were properly attired football coaches.

And then they all began to go to seed. The jackets went first, replaced by army-navy store style windbreakers. Next, the ties disappeared. And after that, the deluge: strictly casual Saturdays and Sundays. Can flip-flops be far behind? The NFL does mandate now that their tacky coaches wear special league-logo raiment, but that doesn't mean it's attractive just because it's being modeled. Oh my, never would I have imagined that I would have warm reveries of Weeb Ewbank or Vince Lombardi, strolling the sidelines as they would the boulevard. In fact, something of a nadir was reached last year, when Mike Nolan, the coach of the 49ers, had to actually petition the league in order to dress with dignity.

Unfortunately, clothes did not make the coach, Mr. Nolan was soon fired, suits and all, and the league coaching roster returned to all grunge all the time.

And, of course, the other way football coaches are so different from their stylish forebears is that they're wired. Try now, please, to picture Pop Warner or Knute Rockne or Papa George Halas with headphones. It sort of takes all the mystery out of coaching, doesn't it, when these modern Xs-and-Os Einsteins remind you foremost of teen-agers walking down the street with iPods?

No, give me a man's man in a tweed jacket and a rep tie and a snap brim, holding nothing more than a rolled-up program in his hand, prowling the sidelines, unattached to any supporting wires. That was a football coach. Now we have techno-crats in Goodwill chic. If only Ralph Lauren had called his line Pigskin instead of Polo, we surely wouldn't be in this sad state.

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