So it was somewhat understandable that two National Football League coaches—at the helm of franchises that been both been struggling now for many years—would be as excited as their players for the big game this past weekend in Detroit involving the Lions and the visiting San Francisco 49ers.
Former NFL quarterback (and highly successful NCAA coach) Jim Harbaugh coaches the 49ers; Jim Schwartz coaches the Lions. Both had their teams off to fantastic starts in the 2011 NFL season.
When the final whistle was blown, San Francisco emerged the victor with a narrow, hard-fought win. At the end of the game, Harbaugh raced across the field for the customary post-game handshake. His glee was evidently a little too apparent for Schwartz when they shook hands (Harbaugh gave a very animated "shake") and after the two men separated, Schwartz proceeded to run after the 49er coach, trying to catch his attention. For a few moments, it looked as though there might be an altercation, but the two were ultimately separated.
Nothing really “happened” but it was a bizarre situation. (Some may recall that, some years ago, there was an actual shoving incident in the Canadian Football League between coaches for the Toronto Argonauts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.) The traditional post-game handshake may sometimes be less than heartfelt (witness when Eric Mangini coached in New York and Cleveland and met with his former, somewhat estranged boss Bill Belichek after games between their two clubs) but generally speaking, both coaches do the right thing: they congratulate the coach of the other team, win or lose, and leave the field with their dignity intact.
In this instance, that did not happen. Afterwards, Harbaugh sounded remorseful for being too exuberant with his “handshake” but nothing more. Schwartz seemed to lay the blame on Harbaugh.
Regardless, it was indeed an unfortunate incident, one that sets another poor example for coaches at all levels—and for young athletes as well.
If the most “professional” coaches, supposed “leaders” in the sport cannot conduct themselves properly after a game—win or lose—no matter how intense the competition was, it doesn’t speak well about their perspective and values.
Perhaps the lesson for youth and amateur coaches must be: be humble and gracious in victory and take the high road in defeat, as well. It’s not always easy, but it’s still the right thing to do.