Does Being a Bit of an S.O.B. Help Football Coaches Win?

I recently found myself in a conversation on this topic with a few prominent college and professional football coaches. To be clear before continuing on, I used S.O.B. in my title to keep it as clean as possible, but the words Bastard and A-hole were used interchangeably in our conversation.

The consensus, in this small sample, was that it is very difficult to win at the highest levels for very long without it. Probably no team sport other than rugby values toughness more than football does, so this was hardly surprising.

With football season upon us I decided to look into it a little further. First I checked to see who coached the teams that won all the BCS and college football playoff championships. That list contained 12 coaches and the 17 most recent champions. I did an informal study contacting coaches and players that either coached with or played for these 12 coaches and asked them to rate from 1 to 10 the level of S.O.B. in them with 10 being highest.

I went in expecting a majority to come in with high averages, but what surprised me was that only one of the 12 came in below an average rating of 5. Not a single one of the remaining eleven coaches on the list came in below an 8.25 rating and the majority rated at or over 9. Although this is far from a comprehensive study these numbers seem to back up the opinions of the coaches I had the original conversation with.

Interestingly, neither of the two coaches who won 7 of the 17 championships between them (covered here) were among the top 3 highest scores in these ratings. So perhaps having too much S.O.B. in you can turn things the other way?

I’m sure there is convincing data to be found arguing that having a good amount of S.O.B. in you is not beneficial, but it seems like for every Joe Paterno (perceived nice guy) there are a lot more John McKays and Paul Bear Bryants to be found. Similarly, in the NFL there appear to be contradictions like perceived nice guys head coaches Marv Levy, Bill Walsh and Dick Vermeil, but without research perhaps there was more S.O.B in them than we publicly perceived? Sometimes S.O.B’s are like wolves in sheep’s clothing.

As one of the all-time biggest pacifists, John Lennon, said “You have to be a bastard to make it, and that’s a fact. And the Beatles are the biggest bastards on earth.” As I surmised earlier, perhaps being too much of an S.O.B. could turn things against your success as a football coach, but if Lennon was right, more is better for a music act.

So who will win this year’s college football play-off? No one really knows, but my money is on a team whose coach is a bit of an S.O.B.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc

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