Mike Tomlin’s sideline stroll was an expensive one, costing him $100,000 and possibly costing the Pittsburgh Steelers even more.
Jason Kidd had to dig into his wallet to pay $50,000 for spilling a soda, arguably the priciest spilled drink in sports history.
It has been 35 years since Woody Hayes punched a Clemson player in the Gator Bowl and almost that long since Bobby Knight threw a chair across the court to protest a call that went against his Indiana team. One thing hasn’t changed in all those years: Coaches aren’t behaving any better than they once did.
Chalk some of that up to a lack of self-control by people who generally top the category of control freaks. But sometimes it’s a simple matter of trying to gain an edge or intimidate an opponent.
That was the case when Kidd tried to buy some time for his beleaguered Brooklyn Nets by bumping into reserve Tyshawn Taylor with 8.3 seconds to go against the Lakers, causing his drink to spill. Watch a video of the play and it shows Kidd seeming to ask Taylor to “hit me” as he walked toward the bench.
While workers cleaned up the mess, Kidd drew up a play for his team. It didn’t help. The hapless Nets still lost.
What Tomlin’s intentions were will be debated long after he and the Steelers part ways. He claimed he was “mesmerized” by watching on a stadium video screen as Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff in his direction, swerving to avoid the coach in a move that possibly cost him a touchdown.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t buy that, levying the second-biggest fine against an NFL coach ever (Bill Belichick received the biggest, a $500,000 hit for Spygate) and warning that the Steelers just might lose a draft pick, too.
Tomlin apologized and said his actions were embarrassing to the Steelers, then said he didn’t plan to discuss it any more. With good reason, because while he’s a Super Bowl winning coach with a .630 winning percentage, his legacy may forever be tied through video to the two-step he did on the sideline with his back turned to the play.
“I was kind of hoping Jacoby would run right in the back of him and forearm him in the back of the head,” San Francisco offensive lineman Alex Boone said. “Stuff like that, that’s uncalled for.”
So was the punch thrown by Hayes, who won three national championships at Ohio State but is remembered more today in YouTube videos showing him hitting Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman after he intercepted a pass to cinch a 17-15 win in the 1978 Gator Bowl. And as much as Knight would like to be remembered as the tough but fair coach who won 902 games and three national titles at Indiana, he will always be the out of control coach who threw a chair and later choked a player during a practice.
They both also lost prime jobs because of their tempers, with Hayes being fired the next day after the Gator Bowl and Knight lasting just a bit longer after a video surfaced of him choking a player in practice in 1997.
“Just a two-second choke,” Knight said in a 2002 book, unrepentant to the end.
One other thing the two coaches had in common was that cameras were rolling, and it’s hard to defend what is caught on tape.
The unrelenting pressure of being a head coach, of course, can take a toll. Fans, alumni, and boosters demand wins and anyone making millions of dollars a year is a big target.
In Tomlin’s case, the coach claimed it was inadvertent, that he was lost in the moment with his back turned to the play and simply wandered too far.
Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said that can happen to coaches immersed in what they’re hearing on headphones and concentrating more on the next play than the one that perhaps they should be watching. Pagano said most teams have a person designated to keep the coach off the field.
“There’s a guy that has got the title of ‘get-back coach’ on the sideline,” he said.
That can work, but sometimes the coaches don’t have headsets on at all.
That happened in Detroit two years ago in a postgame handshake between two volatile coaches that almost turned into a brawl.
San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh seemed to push the Lions Jim Schwartz past the edge with something he did or said – or both. Harbaugh ran across the field after the game and lifted his shirt, exposing his belly to attempt a victory chest bump and handshake that the Detroit coach wanted no part of.
A livid Schwartz charged after Harbaugh as the two teams left the field before the two were separated by their respective sides.
“I was really revved up. That was on me a little, too hard a handshake there.” Harbaugh said in what was as close to an apology as Schwartz would receive.
The game was over.
For once it was a case of no harm, no foul.