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I Can’t Believe I’m Saying This, But NFL Coaches Are Better Than Ever

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 13: Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks on before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)
Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. Buy Drew’s new novel, “Point B,” here.

I know I was under 5 years old when this happened, because my family was living in Connecticut at the time and we didn’t relocate to Chicago until I was 5. But I don’t remember my exact age because when you’re that young, your memory is still taking form. The earliest memories I do have are mere flashes: tiny parts of a much bigger whole that, without the aid of musty photo albums, is forever lost to me.

One of those flashes was my own swim coach trying to drown me.

I was on the swim team at a local pool club. The coach was a redass who yelled at everybody. Standard issue dickhead. I must have done something to piss him off because I remember he grabbed me by the neck, dunked my head in the water, and held it there while I thrashed around, desperate for air. He let me back up after a bit. He was never gonna kill me outright. Maybe he was saving that for later. He must have been teaching me to be a real man or something. All I know is fuck him.

Hating coaches is my passion. I hated that swim coach. I hated a great many other coaches I played for (and liked a few, but let’s ignore them for a moment), and of course I hate professional coaches most of all. When pretty much any NFL head coach gets kicked to the curb, I do a little fist pump.

The old saw is that NFL coaches are hired to be fired, and it’s fans like me who begin that countdown on hiring day. As far as I’m concerned, if my coach didn’t win us a Super Bowl that year, he failed. And when I watch the playoffs, I always dial in on the most egregious coaching fuck-ups that transpire over the course of any given weekend: Mikes Vrabel and Tomlin opting to punt in crucial moments being the most recent example. Fans never forget those mistakes. Tomlin is 17th all time in winning percentage as a head coach, mind you. He won a Super Bowl. He’s won nearly twice as many games as he’s lost in 14 years on the job. But he punted from his own 46 in the fourth, so he also sucks. I’m not forgetting that punt, or the time Tomlin tried to trip Jacoby Jones while Jones was on his way to housing a kickoff return. Every sin a coach commits in the 21st century is unforgivable. It never goes undocumented. It lives forever.

In between those sins, NFL coaches are doing the best work that they, as a collective profession, have ever done. You saw Doug Pederson get tossed out on his ass this week. This was because Pederson, according to Troy Aikman, wanted Jalen Hurts as his quarterback while Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had too much money and sweat equity invested in Carson Wentz to let that happen. Meanwhile, if Doug Pederson time-traveled back to 1970 and got a head coaching gig, he’d be the best coach in the sport. Better than Paul Brown. Better than Tom Landry. Better than John Madden. Better than Chuck Noll and Don Shula, even.

Like other fans, I traffic in hypotheticals, the most prominent of which being Could X Team Beat Y Team? And the answer is always yes. The Steph Curry/KD Warriors would beat the Bill Russell Celtics into the ground, and any NFL team right now would beat the unholy shit out of the '70s Steelers. I always think about these past/present matchups strictly in terms of player mismatches, but I never consider the coaching factor. I should, because coaches have gotten better along roughly the same trajectory as the men they coach for.

Like Doug Pederson, most coaches now know that punting the ball is not only cowardly, but also a statistical disadvantage more often than not. Tomlin’s boner on Sunday night was an anomaly in 2021, but if you go back just four years, it wouldn’t have been. NFL coaches are learning, and they’re learning quickly. Their playbooks are not only more comprehensive, but also more tactically refined. They’re not afraid of passing the ball. They know how to exploit open spaces on the field much better than their predecessors did. In terms of both strategy and player development, they know what to look for on the tape. They know how to properly refine player fundamentals. And the majority of them know how to keep their players physically fresh through the gantlet of a full season. They have better concepts, better drills, and better communication resources than anyone from 1970 did. To steal the phrase, if this were 1970, Doug Pederson could take his'n and beat your'n, then take your'n and beat his'n.

I say that knowing that good leadership is often timeless. A good head coach knows how to delegate, how to put together a good staff, and how to convince players that he knows what the fuck he’s doing. Those qualities never go out of style, but they’re also inexorably linked to a coach’s grasp of the sport. And it’s not like players flourish exclusively under coaches they respect anyway. Even Adam Gase, who sucks in 2021, knows way more about the inner workings of football than, like, Mike Ditka ever bothered to learn. If you put Gase in a coaching duel with 1985 Ditka, I’m not betting on Ditka.

And look again at the eight coaches you’re gonna watch patrol the sideline this weekend. Half of them are under the age of 50. The second-oldest one, Andy Reid, is arguably the youngest-thinking coach in the sport, borrowing liberally from college playbooks and anything else he can find that’s new. None of these eight coaches would be outclassed by the likes of Chuck Noll. None of them. The fuck would Chuck Noll have done if he had been confronted with a refined mesh for the first time? I’ll tell you what he’d have done: SHIT HIS DIAPERS.

I don’t appreciate how far coaches have come because they get enough undue praise from the rest of the media, and because their worst mistakes are often the result of outdated methods, and because coaches are an inherently unlikeable group of men. I think of a bad old coach, and I think of that swim coach waterboarding me until I understood the proper freestyle technique. But just as NFL players have gotten exceedingly stronger and faster, their coaches have gotten savvier in equal measure.

I would ask you to remember that going into this weekend. I would ask you to be grateful for how far these coaches have taken their vocation. But what fun would that be? I’d rather cheer for them to eat curb. Keeps them on their toes.

The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms. And for the playoffs, I grow a pair and PICK the games. Results may vary.

Five Throwgasms

Chiefs 35, Browns (+10) 34. About that Tomlin punt: I’ve said this a million times but the biggest crime any head coach can commit during a game is doing the other team a favor. The Steelers had the Browns, and by extension all Cleveland fans, freaked out at the start of the fourth quarter on Sunday night. They had the lead cut down to 35-23 from 35-10. The Browns’ lead felt like it was three points, if that. The Browns were coming off two straight three-and-outs. Lardass Ben was suddenly completing every single pass he threw downfield. And what did Mike Tomlin do? Well, you know what he did. Tomlin even took a delay of game penalty after he brought out the punt team, ruling out any chance of coming to his senses and changing his mind. I was rooting hard for Cleveland, so my asshole exhaled for the first time in an hour when Tomlin pulled a Mike McCarthy.

I know I wasn’t alone. If the Steelers had gone for it on that down, they would have converted. It was a fucking lock. Instead, they eased up, the Browns scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession, and the game was over. If you’ve got the other team afraid, you keep them afraid. It’s always disorienting when a coach is the last person to grasp that.

Bills (-2) 30, Ravens 20. Back in September, I was writing up the Bills’ Why Your Team Sucks preview and got this email from reader Joe:

This year The Buffalo Bills will absolutely win the Super Bowl. Not because they are a surprisingly complete team. Not because I think Josh Allen will make that superstar jump. Not because God is good and we (as a sports city) have suffered more than most. No way. Their imminent victory will be one final absentee ballot marked “Fuck You” from this ratshit year to stillbirth across my feet. 

Joe wasn’t the only Bills fan who made the same prediction. Now I quietly laughed at those letters, because the Bills have sucked for the past 25 years and because “Of course we’re winning it all! Boy that would suck!” has real Boston fan vibes to it. But I’ll be goddamned, Joe was RIGHT. We might get a Bills/Browns AFC title game staged in a goddamn vacuum! GOD REALLY IS A FUCKER LIKE THAT!

By the way, if that game DOES happen, I’m cheering for the Browns. I’d be happy with either team winning, but the Browns have never gone to the Super Bowl. They’re so overdue it defies basic physics.

Four Throwgasms

Saints (-3) 20, Bucs 14. Meanwhile, here’s the old fogey side of the playoff bracket. Imagine slogging through an entire COVID-riddled season only to watch Tom Brady win yet another goddamn Super Bowl. I won’t let that happen. I’m gonna petition Congress to formally have Brady removed from under center. I can get the votes. I’m not letting Jim Nantz preside over this man winning his seventh ring. I’d rather watch the Capitol get stormed again.

Three Throwgasms

Packers (-6.5) 21, Rams 7. This is the worst game of the weekend so let’s talk about some random crap instead of thinking about it:

• I went down to the basement the other night and I caught my 14-year-old and my eight-year-old watching Rick and Morty. I kicked the younger one out of the room. Then I said to my daughter, “Hey man, you can watch that show but watch out for the Rick and Morty fanboys. They’re freaks.” And then she said, “I don’t read about it online. I just like watching the show.” And I was like wait a second, you mean you can just WATCH a show? You don’t have to become a shitboy redditor immediately after taking it in? Goddamn. Whole new world for me. I let her keep watching. If she holds up a McDonald’s for Szechuan sauce in the next few days though, I’m gonna revisit that decision.

• Like I said earlier, I know it sucks that they can’t fill stadiums all the way for these games, especially with teams like the Bills still in contention. But I’m surprised that color guys haven’t romanticized the empty stadium factor. I remember when Miami and Washington tied for the national title in CFB back in 1991, because they didn’t play each other in a bowl game. And everyone was like DURRR THEY SHOULD JUST MEET ON AN EMPTY SANDLOT IN NEBRASKA AND SETTLE IT ONCE AND FER ALL. Well, we’re currently being treated to an entire season of sandlot ball right now, are we not? No huge crowds to sway anything. Not even competent refereeing to keep the proceedings formal. This pure, uncut FOOTBAW! Real man shit! I promise you that, once the Super Bowl is over, the raw emptiness of this season will end up canonized. You’ll hear about it for decades. Aaron Rodgers will sit down for NFL Films and say, “The only sound we heard was the competition.”

• I want more analytics on the screen during the telecast. Next Gen stats are garbage. I don’t care how many total yards Lamar Jackson ran on a 12-yard gain. I wanna know what the current win probability is, and I wanna know how punting on X down will change those percentages. As it stands now, I have to follow along on Twitter to get this information, or I have to hope that Al Michaels grumpily refers to “the analytics” before giving me the shift in odds well after the play has been run. I want all that on the screen, man. I want hard, quantified evidence of a team fucking up in real time. WHAT IS ROGER GOODELL TRYING TO HIDE?

Two Throwgasms


One Throwgasm


2020 Picks: 4-2 (4-2 vs. the spread)

Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

“The World’s Brest American Band,” by White Reaper! Let’s all welcome White Reaper back to the Jamboroo, courtesy of Harry:

If you can listen to this without wanting to pump your fist and/or yell "Rally up and dress to kill," you're a better man than I.

You’re not a BETTER man if you can’t rock out to White Reaper, amigo. You are a joyless lump and you should be remanded to a windowless cell on an aircraft carrier. My biggest triumph of quarantine was getting my wife into White Reaper. All downhill from here.

Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week

In the middle of an insurrection, it’s important to listen to people like Olivia Nuzzi.

If you're new to The Nootz, and let's hope you are, lemme give you the lowdown. Nuzzi is New York magazine's DC correspondent and the girlfriend/collaborator of Politico reporter Ryan Lizza. Lizza was booted from the New Yorker for sexual misconduct and is getting shit right now because Politico invited a bunch of people to guest edit its Playbook column, including documented white supremacist Ben Shapiro. So here is a subtweet defending both her man AND the Nazi her man gave a freelance gig to. Excuse me while I go chug a bottle of Excedrin.

Cryptkeeper Al’s Lock Of The Week: Chiefs (-10) over Browns

“EEEE HEE HEE HEE HEE HEE! Greetings, FIENDS! Tonight I bring you a tale that’ll really put on the edge of your… SEAT?

(holds up dismembered buttcheek)

“It concerns a group of young men from CLEAVEland who found themselves in a little city outside of KanCYST. They thought they could find their way back home. They thought everyone would be ROTTING for them to do it! Oh, but it appears they might have made a wrong turn… TO HELL! EEEE HEE HEE HEE HEE HEE!”

Cryptkeeper Al’s 2020 record: 1-2

Bad Local Commercial Of The Week!

Pizza Guys! Featuring Isaiah Thomas! Reader Tigh sends in this, uh, classic.

When the Kings' current rebuild was in year seven (2012) Isaiah Thomas did a series of commercials for Pizza Guys, a local chain. Back then, IT was an exciting, charismatic fan favorite with lots of potential, so naturally he was traded for the rights to Alex Oriakhi. In retrospect, it's bittersweet to see the pizza guy's pre-LBJ/hip injury exuberance and contemplate the max-deal that almost was--just think of all that pizza. Also, after IT left Ben Mclemore tried to be a pizza guy but, much like his actual play on the floor, he just went through the motions soullessly.

This is hilariously naïve, I will always be puzzled by otherwise well-compensated pro athletes slumming it and doing shitty local commercials for a relative drop in the bucket. What could Pizza Guys have afforded to pay Isaiah Thomas? $10,000? $10,000 is a co-pay for Isaiah Thomas.

Fire This Asshole!

Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2020 chopping block:

Bill O’Brien—FIRED!
Dan Quinn—FIRED!
Matt Patricia—FIRED!
Anthony Lynn—FIRED!
Adam Gase—FIRED!
Doug Marrone—FIRED!
Doug Pederson—FIRED!
Mike Zimmer
Jon Gruden

(* - potential midseason firing)

I don’t think Mike Zimmer is going anywhere this offseason, but maybe he should.

Past co-workers describe the head coach as everything from “a very disgruntled, pissy old man” to “joyless” to “a big blamer” to “an equal-opportunity asshole” to “pissed about everything.” One source close to the team’s inner-workings believes his intensity worked initially with so many young players dying to prove themselves but, as time passed, it became white noise. “Everything is everyone else’s fault,” this source says.

Oh. I’ve been happy with Zimmer for the bulk of his tenure, if only because the Vikings’ coachography post–Bud Grant has been rather underwhelming. But the Vikings have a nasty habit of letting talented coordinators walk out the door and become more successful than the old boss: Tony Dungy, Mike Tomlin, Brian Billick, etc. Now Kevin Stefanski has turned the Browns—the fucking Browns!—into a dangerous team, and the brains behind the Vikings’ front office just fled for Denver. All that’s left now is Kirk Cousins and Buddy Ryan 1.5. I’m not terribly encouraged.

Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Robert sends in this story I call POOPER VERSUS POOPER:

My friends and I went on our 3rd annual fishing trip in the Chesapeake, which is to say we just wanted an excuse to start drinking at 6 am and continue drinking for approximately 48 hours. It was such a monumental drinking binge that I felt like I was in college again. Anyways, we get back to my buddy’s house, where a few of us are staying to sober up before we have to go back to work on Tuesday, and I wake up in the middle of the night with the most horrific stomach pains I’ve ever experienced. Two days of nothing but booze and fried food/junk food was trying to get out. I sit on the toilet, and the onslaught begins. I didn’t time it, but it felt like I pooped for a solid 5 minutes. It just kept coming and coming and coming. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I wish I would have had the foresight to weigh myself before and after, because I am confident I dropped 10 pounds in those 5 minutes.

When I finally finished, I realized that this was an absolutely epic poop, and had to see it for myself. I took a quick peak, and saw that the entire bowl was filled with semi-solid human waste. When I say the entire bowl, I mean the ENTIRE bowl. It was above the water line. I was so impressed with my pooping ability that I quickly determined I should leave it in the bowl for others to see. I threw the TP away as opposed to putting it in the toilet, so as not to disturb my masterpiece, left the toilet as it was, and went back to bed. 

Fast forward a few hours, and the entire house is woken up by the loudest scream I have ever heard. I thought someone was being murdered. Turns out, unbeknownst to me, my buddy’s (relatively new) girlfriend had come over late night, and came downstairs to use the bathroom. When she turned on the light, there was my masterpiece in the toilet, un-flushed, and still not settled below the waterline. Of course I thought it was hysterical, my friend not so much. His girlfriend was pissed. She freaked out, and left at 5 in the morning. They broke up last week because she thinks he and his friends are immature. I can’t imagine why she would think such a thing.

I’m a relatively mature guy these days but even I think the girlfriend overreacted. It’s just a big shit. It’s not gonna come ALIVE. Flush the toilet and get on with it.

Gametime Snack Of The Week

Chocolate chips. Always have chocolate chips handy. We have a container of them in the cabinet for “baking,” but they never reach that stage of consumption. I make sure to grab a handful of chocolate chips at least twice a day. For energy. Need that energy.

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

FAXE Quality Extra Strong! One look at this bad boy and I already know it will put you in a WORLD OF PAIN. Reader Drew (not me) confirms it:

May I present to you, Faxe beer, brewed in Denmark. I was just in Munich for a few days and this was served in none of the beer halls. No, you have to wander through the central Munich train station to pick up a liter of Faxe for just under four euro. The 10% abv CLEARLY printed on the label lets you know you won't be limping away from this one. The first three tiny hotel glass pours of this albatross were...fine? Maybe a little metallic? By the fourth and final pour I wanted to die. Luckily the Viking on the label was more than happy to send me off to Valhalla. Now if you will excuse me, just looking at this can has made me dizzy. 

That Viking really does mean business. If you drink enough Faxe, he’ll actually jump out of the label and cut your head off with a sword. SKOL FAXE.

By the way, my 14-year-old now says “Facts” as an affirmative to pretty much anything. Like so.

ME: Hey this is some good pizza!

HER: Facts.

Every other word is “facts.” The speed of teenage memes are so far out of my grasp that I may as well have time-traveled here from 1936.

Alex Guerrero’s Lifehack Of The Week!

“A lot of people have been talking about insurrection in the news lately, but they never talk about a more personal kind of insurrection. I’m speaking, of course, about the insurrection that magnesium stages inside your body every day. That’s the danger you face when you drink tap water.”

Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Jets Fans

Ghost Rider, which is the greatest Marvel movie ever made. It clocks in at under two hours. It’s got Nicolas Cage doing an Elvis impression throughout the whole movie, and that’s not even the FIRST time he’s done that on a job. It’s got the late Peter Fonda flawlessly embodying Satan. It’s got a director who was actually allowed to, like, direct. And it’s got Sam fucking Elliott! And the superhero at the center of it is an agent of Satan who rides a tricked-out chopper and will eat your soul if you stole an old lady’s purse 12 years ago.

Unless there was some dipshit Easter egg I missed (likely), Cage was never part of the cleaned-up MCU movies that followed this one. I prefer it this way. I don’t want the purity of Nicolas Cage tainted with a drive-by Whedonism from fucking Hawkeye. Ghost Rider is a good-ass B movie, and no one ever makes good-ass B movies anymore. At their core, all comic book movies should be B movies: corny, violent, and cheap-looking. That’s what comic books are, man. I don’t want a RESPECTABLE comic book movie. I want one that’s completely fucking absurd. Nic Cage gets this.

Also, Wes Bentley is a bad guy in this. Remember Wes Bentley? Let’s Remember Some Actors.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

“We'll blow up our dams, destroy forests, anything! If there's a species of animal that's causing problems nosing around your camera, we'll have it wiped out!”

Enjoy the games, everyone.

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