Kevin Cowherd: Both coaches had hand in Schwartz-Harbaugh dust-up

October 19, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

It's the story that won't die, the post-game Handshake from Hell that has turned into a PR nightmare for the NFL.

The debate has raged all week: Who was the bigger jerk?

Was it amped-up 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for the hard handshake and back slap he delivered to Lions coach Jim Schwartz after San Francisco's big win over Detroit on Sunday?

Or was it Schwartz for going Chernobyl and trying to get at Harbaugh — Ravens coach John Harbaugh's younger brother — when he should have just walked away and hit the showers.

If you listen to former Ravens special teams ace Bennie Thompson, both men red-lined the Jerk-O-Meter.

"As a coach, you always try to set an example for your players and never do anything to hurt the team," Thompson said Wednesday. "Both took things a bit too far."

Thompson, who played in Baltimore from 1996 to 1999, knew Jim Harbaugh when he quarterbacked the Ravens in 1998. And he knew Schwartz when the Mount St. Joseph grad was a defensive assistant with the team from 1996 to 1998.

Harbaugh, Thompson says, had an "arrogance in him." As for Schwartz, Thompson described him as "a young, energetic type of guy. He's very bright, one of the brightest young coaching minds around."

If he's so bright, why the big meltdown?

Was it just the tightly wound Schwartz being a sore loser?

Or was it just a natural reaction after a tough loss when the other coach is celebrating like it's a frat football game and everyone's heading to the keg?

Thompson is at a loss to explain it.

"I didn't know he had that in him," he said of the Lions' coach. "I had never seen that side of him."

Which is probably a good thing. Because the video of an enraged Schwartz pin-balling off 300-pound players to get at Harbaugh made Schwartz look like an out-of-control toddler in need of a timeout.

Predictably, there has been plenty of fallout from the Handshake from Hell.

First, you had the NFL deciding not to fine either coach for his actions, apparently operating on the old schoolyard hoops principle of "no blood, no foul."

In effect, the league said: Since no punches were thrown, everything's cool.

Which was a curious stance to take, since the league fines players for every silly little infraction. If they wear the wrong color wristband, they get fined. If they celebrate a touchdown the wrong way, they get fined. If they tweet at the wrong time, they get fined.

Look what just happened to Matt Birk.

The Ravens' veteran center was asked by the league to wear a microphone on his shoulder pads to pick up in-game sound for TV. Sure, said Birk, the ultimate good guy.

But during the game, he discovered a little problem: The stupid microphone was jabbing him in the throat. Which made it kind of hard to concentrate. So to avoid the possibility of a gaping hole forming in his esophagus, he removed the mic.

And the league fined him five grand.

But two coaches acting like jerks and almost touching off a post-game melee — that doesn't merit a fine? Explain that one to me.

Now imagine what would have happened if that had been two players jawing and trying to get at each other. Think they might have had to pony up a few bucks?

Here's another thing that has happened since the Harbaugh-Schwartz dust-up: Now you have people calling for an end to coaches shaking hands after a game.

It's too emotional right after a game, they say. Plus, a lot of these guys plain don't like each other. Somebody says the wrong thing, looks at someone the wrong way, anything can happen.

Which is just about the lamest argument ever.

Too emotional? That's exactly why coaches and players should shake hands. It's called good sportsmanship.

Shaking hands is the way you rise above the emotion of the game. The way you show respect to your opponent. The way you tell everyone: It's still a game.

A handshake is the way you get past all the stupid war analogies. It's not war, it's football. No one's shooting at anyone. No one's calling in artillery strikes.

When it's over, no one comes in to count bodies. Everyone goes home and has a beer.

And don't give me that nonsense that some coaches don't like each other, so shaking hands after a game can lead to an incident.

You're coaching in the NFL, making millions of dollars. And you don't have the discipline and self-control to shake the other guy's hand, look him in the eye and say: "Good game?"

If that's the case, you're in the wrong line of work.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd at 7:20 a.m. Tuesdays on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show."

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