Several years ago, when my younger son was playing high school football, the players' dads would organize a team breakfast before Saturday home games. I remember one father in particular.
He was quiet and unassuming. He would mingle a little, eat eggs alongside his son, listen to remarks by the head coach and leave with everyone else when it was over. You'd hardly have noticed him, except that he was the head coach of the Chicago Bears, a guy named Lovie Smith.
If it had been Rex Ryan, I think things would have gone differently.
The Jets coach brings to mind what Alice Roosevelt Longworth said of her father, Theodore Roosevelt: "He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral, and the baby at every christening."
Ryan's press conferences are great fodder for SportsCenter. He gets more headlines than Sarah Palin. He became a full-fledged media phenomenon when he let HBO into the Jets training camp, giving viewers weekly blasts of his profane, trash-talking persona.
I could appreciate Ryan -- if the problem with our society were a shortage of loud, obnoxious attention seekers. But in a nation blessed with Glenn Beck, Joan Rivers, Rahm Emanuel and Dick Vitale, we have a surplus.
Smith is the sort of coach who, when his team is losing, gets roasted for being dull, passive, uninspiring and clueless. He doesn't raise his voice, throw clipboards or needle rivals. Some people find this behavior strange. In the aftermath of an embarrassing defeat, they think his calm demeanor indicates he is unable to grasp the depth of his failure.
Maybe the real incomprehension lies in thinking that noisy, abrasive coaches are needed for success. Among the four coaches left in the playoffs, three are about as colorful as an Ikea store.
They've probably deduced that any player who gets to the NFL doesn't need verbal fireworks to be sufficiently motivated. They've doubtless figured out that screaming abuse at referees is a futile indulgence. They realize that if they expect self-discipline from their players, it helps to set a good example. Ryan's outsized personality, on the other hand, only distracts from the real cause of his success -- his football acumen.
Most of what football coaches do is invisible, so if they are restrained, it may look as though they are doing nothing. Getting in someone's face conveys an impression of strenuous effort. But it doesn't accomplish much except to draw cameras and microphones.
A lot of the most successful coaches didn't need to be told that. Tom Landry guided the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories and 13 division titles without once changing his facial expression.