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How the pandemic could affect NFL coaching staffs

In part two of the Corona Chronicles, we look into the possible repercussions on NFL coaching staffs.

Seattle Seahawks v New Orleans Saints Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

As other sports leagues resume play around the world, we can assume the NFL is watching closely and using other leagues as possible models for their own return. Last week, the NBA unveiled it’s plan to resume the 2019-2020 season with 22 teams playing in the confines of Orlando’s Disney World.

One very interesting development that greatly impacts teams was Adam Silver’s admission that the league’s intention to protect higher risk personnel might mean some coaches may not be able to join their teams along the bench.

As only a few teams have coaches over the age of 65, this rule could adversely affect those teams while leaving others with their full coaching staffs intact. Perhaps these older coaches could try coaching from a suite above, but there’s absolutely no way it would work as well as it can in the NFL.

After breaking his leg on the sidelines in 2011, Sean Payton once coached several games from the coaches’ box. Needless to say, he didn’t love it.

“I think the one element of being removed sometimes can be frustrating,” Payton conceded. “Certainly, it’s not a big deal if you’re winning and having success like we had the week before. Yet that part of it is more frustrating for me than calling or not calling plays. There are certain things, if you want to get the attention of a player, or stress the emphasis of a situation or where you’re at in the game.”

Basketball, however, is much more intimate than football and it would definitely hurt coaches’ abilities to convey constant messages and feedback to their players if they weren’t directly on the bench. New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had plenty to say about the matter when he spoke to Ramona Shelburne.

The point about being singled out is not only a valid one, but potentially a litigious one at that. Two of the three oldest coaches in the NBA, Alvin Gentry and Mike D’Antoni share the same agent, Warren LeGarie, who warned against creating stigmas among differing personnel for seemingly random reasons.

Let’s apply this logic to the NFL’s head coaches. Pete Carroll is the league’s oldest at the age of 68. He, along with Bill Belichick (68) and Bruce Arians (67), could be banned from coaching on the sidelines due to their advanced age. Mike Zimmer (64) wouldn’t be far behind them in that category.

Just to play devil’s advocate here, who is to definitively say that Pete Carroll is at higher risk than coaches who might be younger but less physically fit, like 62-year old Andy Reid or even 45-year old Matt Patricia?

Super Bowl LIV - San Francisco 49ers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

If a league’s reasoning for keeping coaches off the bench is solely based on age, isn’t that unfair and spurious when there are numerous other risk factors involved in determining what activities are safe for whom?

If the NBA or NFL bans older coaches, what then precludes it from banning any player or personnel who is say African American, overweight, hypertensive, diabetic, or even asthmatic, all of which appear to possibly be correlated with coronavirus-severity?

For instance, Denver Broncos linebacker Vonn Miller, who we can all agree seems extremely healthy and in fact survived COVID-19, actually falls under two of those conditions as a black man with asthma.

Who really is at higher risk? Who needs greater protection? Who’s willing to accept what that means going forward? D’Antoni seemed to hint at exactly what kind of Pandora’s Box banning coaches based on age could open.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton is 56 and won’t turn 57 until December 29th, so he falls under the age 65 restriction, but what affects could this have on building coaching staffs in the future?

Inspired by the early success of Sean McVay, many teams were already starting to hire younger head coaches. But the emergence of COVID-19 could dramatically decrease the number of older coaches across the league as franchises are given another reason to get younger, one that reeks of stigma so matter it’s intent.

It appears Adam Silver has been made hip to this fact, however, so it will be worth watching to see what, if anything, actually happens with respect to this issue.

It would be interesting to hear opinions from Arians, Belichick, and Carroll since their lives and careers would be affected most. We already know how Gentry feels about it.