Growing up a Jets fan in New York City can be tough. Not only do we have to deal with our divisional rivals (like the worthless, good for nothing, cheats that are the New England Patriots), but also, we are constantly berated by fans of our intercity rivals, New York’s other team, the Giants. The fact that the success of these teams is not at all interrelated–they are in different conferences and only play each other once every four years–is irrelevant, as New York City is undeniably divided by its football allegiance.
The Jets and Giants, from top to bottom, could not be more different, and nowhere is this difference more clear than in the ruling styles of their head coaches.
Tom Coughlin, the hard-nosed disciplinarian leader of the Giants, subscribes to old-school NFL principles of coaching; he is tight-lipped, strict, and intense, a perfectionist who rules his team with an iron fist. In fact, in a recent Sporting News poll of NFL players, Coughlin was named the NFL coach players would least want to have. This story by Nate Collins, a former Giants player, encapsulates harshness of Coughlin’s coaching style:
“I was on the Giants. It was my rookie year. I was on the practice squad, and I was late one morning. And [coach Tom] Coughlin told the equipment guys to take all the stuff out of my locker. So when I’m walking into the locker room, I see my locker, and it’s empty. And I’m thinking it’s over. I already got cut for being late. So I’m walking up to his office with the worst feeling in the world. He was like, “How do you feel right now? Do you feel like I was going to cut you? I want you to feel like that. Because if you’re ever late again, that’s what’s going to happen.” (http://bleedbigblue.com/tom-coughlin-coaching-style/).
Rex Ryan‘s relationship with his players could not be more different. Instead of fostering an environment of seriousness and intensity, Ryan makes jokes to keep the mood light. He often, much to the New York media’s delight, makes bold predictions and rash declaration to shift the spotlight from the players to himself. Unlike Coughlin, he was named the NFL coach players would most want to have. Rex Ryan is the consummate players coach and has completely backed by his team, as evinced by the player’s ecstasy when finding out he would be retained has head coach.
Rex Ryan and Tom Coughlin represent two diametrically opposed philosophies on how best to rule in the NFL. Ryan, like Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, believes that the ideal ruler strives to be loved by his players. Subscribers to this ideology unite themselves with their players, fostering a locker room environment that is positive, happy, and unified. Moreover, these coaches have an open door policy, allowing players to freely interact with the coaching staff and give input on game preparation. Coughlin, on the other hand, subscribes to the ruling philosophies of Patriots coach (and cheater) Bill Belichick and 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Bill Parcells, who believe that it is best for a coach to motivate with fear. These disciplinarians keep the locker room mood serious and intense and isolate the coaching staff from the players. Conventional NFL wisdom holds that only disciplinarians were a successful ruler of their team. However, with the recent success of Ryan, Carroll, and other player-coaches, the NFL has seen a shift in ideology.
By now, I’m sure you have recognized the Machiavellian sentiments in these NFL coaching ideologies. You could say that Tom Coughlin is the Niccolò Machiavelli of the NFL; he subscribes to the Machiavellian principles that it is better to be feared than loved, and that one should only seek counsel (interact with players) when he so choses. His players do not rally around him in love and support, but rather, they are motivated to perform by fear of punishment.
Recently, political philosophy has shifted from striving to be feared to striving to be loved. In our current political atmosphere, politicians campaign exclusively to gain the love of their constituents. Similarly, the NFL now contains more and more player-coaches, those who gain the love and support of their players rather than alienate them. The NFL serves as a microcosm of Machiavellian political theory, and the evolution of world politics is mirrored in the evolution of coaching, as rulers now seek love rather than fear. It is astonishing to see Machiavellian influences in a game which was invented hundreds of years after his death.