Recently, NFL Films produced a segment on the “Get Back Coach.” For the uninitiated, the area of the sideline closest to the field is reserved for the officiating crew. If a coach or a player intrudes into an official’s space and accidentally bumps the official, it is a penalty. The “Get Back Coach” is employed to police the sidelines and pull back all coaches and players from the officials’ territory. The “Get Back Coach” usually has no other consequential responsibilities like communicating in-game strategy on the headset.
Additionally, at all levels, the “Get Back Coach” is also a Strength and Conditioning Coach and sometimes it is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach. This is the case with the “Get Back Coach” profiled by NFL Films. Ted Rath is the Director of Strength Training and Performance for the Los Angeles Rams. He is a very accomplished strength and conditioning professional in his own right and his work has been instrumental in making the Rams the healthiest team every week as evidenced by the Rams’ very short injury reports.
This should be Coach Rath’s claim to fame and introduction to the nation. Instead, he is introduced as the “Get Back Coach,” for which he found enjoyment and humor and that is fine.
To be fair, speaking as a strength coach myself, we do pride ourselves in yeoman’s work. We will do whatever it takes to win and that often includes cleaning up a weight room ourselves because the school is not doing that for us like they do in the classrooms. We get it, we do it, and we don’t complain.
The NFL Films piece was also humorous and well done. Reactions from the audience online usually run along the lines of; “I bet he gets paid six-figures to do that,” or; “For $100,000 per year, I would be a “Get Back Coach” too!”
Obviously, that is not the only thing Coach Rath does and what he does in the weight room is very important to the success of the Los Angeles Rams. Yet, when the general public does their research and finds that he is a strength and conditioning coach, they either don’t know what that fully means and/or they have a diminished view of that position in the coaching staff hierarchy due to their typical game day responsibility as a “Get Back Coach.”
I propose this solution to the problem of sideline management.
First, “how you do one thing affects how you do everything.” We preach to our players the importance of attention to detail. We need to set the example. The message gets obscured when we as football coaches don’t pay attention to details ourselves. Stepping in the officials’ box absent-mindedly because you are “so focused on winning” to be bothered with non-football “trivialities” is not praiseworthy. Neither is lining up in the neutral zone because you are so focused on sacking the quarterback and going to the Super Bowl.
Details matter and even championship teams don’t do everything right. As a championship-winning football coach myself, I think I speak on behalf of all champions out there that there are numerous ways we can continue to improve. Getting arrogant about your success leads to a lack of discipline which leads to losing eventually.
Once we as football coaches set the example and model self-discipline on the sidelines, we move on to find ways strength and conditioning coaches can be better utilized on game days. I am a football coach and a strength coach. I am on the headset contributing to in-game strategy and play calling on Friday nights. With a headset limit in place at the NCAA and highly specialized roles in the NFL, that may not be an option, but that does not mean there are not more valuable roles for strength coaches on game days.
Strength coaches are the only other coaches on staff who have an audience with the entire team outside of the Head Coach. They build relationships with plays in-season and offseason in ways that go deeper than coordinators and position coaches. I can attest that strength coaches can play a vital role on the sideline in calming down players, getting them focused, and getting them excited. It is like having an in-game sports psychologist on the sideline to help boost performance. Few coaches on staff know better how to motivate and manage an individual player’s physical, mental, and emotional strength.
Yes, the NFL Films piece was well done and humorous. Yes, Ted Rath is an example of the above and beyond dedication we as strength coaches have for the mission of winning. However, for the sake of the image of the strength and conditioning profession and for the sake of winning more football games, there are better solutions to sideline management than the employment of a strength coach as a “Get Back Coach.”