During an average football game, even the best NFL coaches face an overwhelming task. While it might seem like players put in most of the hard yardage, the guys on the sidelines have plenty of responsibilities; from calling plays to arguing with the officials, a head coach’s work is never done. This season, they also have to carry out all of their usual responsibilities while wearing a face mask.
While there have been a few hiccups along the way, most NFL coaches have been pretty good about following the rules. There have been some lapses, however, prompting the league to institute a new penalty to try and keep everyone in line.
The NFL has made some changes to try and keep COVID-19 in check
Under ordinary circumstances, the NFL can more or less do whatever it wants; due to football’s cultural currency and financial might, the league is pretty untouchable. COVID-19, however, doesn’t care about any of that.
While the NFL was in the early stages of the offseason when the coronavirus pandemic reached North America, the league still had to make some notable changes. The first casualty was the annual draft; instead of an in-person event in Las Vegas, fans, players, and teams alike were forced to make do with an online affair.
As the season approached, it became clear that some additional alterations would be necessary. Players were given a chance to opt-out of the 2020 NFL season if they didn’t feel comfortable taking the field; preseason games and postgame jersey exchanges were also scrapped. Home-field advantage is also a bit different this year, as no stadium is welcoming a capacity crowd’s worth of raucous fans.
NFL coaches have had to change their game-day attire
While the likes of Hank Stram and Vince Lombardi used to hit the sidelines in a suit, most NFL coaches are a bit more casual in 2020. This season, though, they’ve had to add a new accessory to their wardrobe.
As we’ve all become accustomed to in day-to-day life, anyone with access to the bench area, other than players, is expected to wear face masks during games. While everyone can wear their preferred style—Andy Reid, for example, prefers a shield to a surgical mask or gaiter—not everyone has adjusted to the rule seamlessly.
Earlier in the season, Pete Carroll, Vic Fangio, Kyle Shanahan, Jon Gruden, and Sean Payton were spotted on the sidelines without masks. The league promptly hit each of the five coaches with a $100,000 fine; their respective clubs also received a $250,000 penalty.
NFL coaches can now be flagged for failing to wear a face mask
While $100,000 might be a massive expense for most people, it’s a drop in the bucket for NFL coaches. As of Week 5, however, they could be facing a different penalty: a flag and 15 yards.
According to a report by ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, “NFL officials have been authorized to penalize teams for unsportsmanlike conduct if a coach or someone else on the sideline approaches them while not wearing appropriate face coverings, according to a memo sent to teams.”
In the past, some coaches have removed their masks to talk with the officials or argue a call; the league’s memo, however, explicitly mentions that scenario.
“We have seen multiple occasions where head coaches have removed their masks to communicate with game officials during games,” senior vice president of officiating administration Perry Fewell wrote in the memo. “Doing so creates unnecessary, increased risk for the game official, the head coach, and others, and is inconsistent with the requirement that face coverings be worn at all times. … Consistent with all other individuals on the sideline, game officials are entitled to your respect as they perform their job duties during the pandemic.”
Coaches can now be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and penalized 15 yards for removing their masks to speak with the officials. Given the fine margins of an NFL game, that change may be exactly what it takes to keep everyone on the sidelines following league protocol.