Here’s Why NFL Coaches Wear Sweats, Not Suits, on the Sideline

NFL coaches are well-versed in football, master strategists, and motivators of men. One thing no one describes them as is “fashion-conscious.” While NHL and NBA coaches wear formal suits on the sidelines, NFL coaches wear gear that any football fan may wear. So why is it that NFL coaches wear sweats, not suits, on the sideline?

NFL coaching attire of the past

Pro football coaches’ style in the 1960s looked much different than today. Vince Lombardi, legendary Green Bay Packers coach, was famous for wearing a suit, tie, hat, and an overcoat on the sidelines in chilly Wisconsin. San Diego Chargers coach Sid Gillman wore a bow tie. Hank Stram, former Kansas City Chiefs coach, wore a suit jacket and tie.

The most famous accouterment of any head coach, however? Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry’s trademark fedora, which he wore along with a suit and tie. Where did Landry’s fedora originate, exactly? “New York got cold during the football season, and he needed something to cover his bald head,” Dallas News explains. “Thinking ahead to a post-football life in the insurance business, he decided it would be best to look as businesslike as possible on the sideline.”

There was a time when Landy’s business professional look was the standard operating procedure for all NFL head coaches. Now? They’ve gone with a different style. 

What NFL coaches wear today

In today’s NFL, head coaches are expected to wear team-oriented gear. This means coaches sport a variety of looks, including: 

  • Bill Belichick with his ever-present Patriots sweatshirt — sometimes with the sleeves cut off
  • Former Bills and Jets’ coach Rex Ryan’s sweater vest displaying the team logo
  • Polo shirts, warm-up gear, hats, or other items depending on the weather

The same way Landry’s fedora personified his era, Belichick’s hoodie is a great example of modern NFL style. It’s a somewhat sloppy look that makes a statement: “My appearance doesn’t matter, all I’m focused on is football.” The Wall Street Journal even marked the occasion when he first wore his sleeveless hoodie:

“Nov. 23rd, 2003 is a day that deserves its own chapter in the annals of New England Patriots history. Not because the team won (although they did: 23 to 20 over the Houston Texans) but because it was the day that head coach, Bill Belichick, debuted his now-legendary sweatshirt style: A gray Patriots logo hoodie with cut-off sleeves.” 

How long have NFL coaches worn team-oriented attire? 

The league has forced coaches to wear team-branded gear since 1993. The league even has a deal with Reebok, which provides the aforementioned gear. If you want answers as to why NFL coaches don’t focus much on fashion, this Reebok deal is the answer.

In 2005, then-San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Nolan attempted to “class up” the sideline as well as honor his father by wearing a suit. The league denied him this opportunity. In a story about Nolan’s quest, The LA Times discovered that Reebok is “why Nolan can’t wear a dress shirt, sport coat or tie — because the sportswear giant doesn’t currently make any of those items.”

As long as the league has deals with corporate sponsors, coaches will need to continue dressing down.