NFL football is a great source of case studies on psychological melt downs.
In bad franchises, you see this phenomenon over and over again. New coach comes in super-pumped, full of confidence, beaming at everyone, promising a new era of winning. Two years later, as the defeats mount up, the same coach faces the press each Monday morning with a deer-in-the-headlights look, vacant eyes, empty answers, please-don’t-hit-me-again demeanor.
Some coaches experiencing this crack up are painful to observe, but not many. The vast majority of coaches having their manhood squeezed out of them in the naked glare of the public spotlight are pretty fun to watch. You have to put aside your normal Christian attitude towards humanity, if you have one, to enjoy these wince jobs, but in football it’s okay to suspend the rules of decent behavior and be a thug here and there without eternal consequences. At least I hope it’s okay. If not, at least I’ll have plenty of company in the post-life pain room.
49er fans didn’t witness any of these ghoulish soirees during the eighties or the nineties, but over the past eight years we’ve been treated to the roasted remains of three head coaches and two general managers. Each of these barbecued fellows has left a vivid portrait of failure burned onto the walls of our cranial museums. The “What Day Is It?” Erickson face, the “O.J. Simpson” Donahue face, the “Mutiny on the Bounty” Nolan Face, the “DUI Mug Shot” McCloughan face, and the “Neanderthal in the City” Singletary face.
Take a bow gentlemen. You came, you saw, you splatooied.
Singletary was probably the most fun to see melt down. Erickson was scratching his head when he got here and scratching it when he left. Donahue stayed hidden while he was here and when he left. Nolan barked coming in and stammered going out. McCloughan just bloated up, popped, and disappeared. But Singletary suffered a visible and acute personality and brain wheeze out. He was unable to obscure the disoriented pain he was experiencing.
It’s one thing to lose a war, like Nolan did, but it’s entirely another to lose your manhood, like Singletary did. He based his whole empire on being the toughest kid on the block, and in the end he was just a confused bully, standing in the school yard while everyone laughed at him. Looking up and out at the cameras like a beast subdued and broken by captivity, unable to fathom the world he had once owned.
It’s hard to imagine Jim Harbaugh in a melt down scenario. One of the reasons I think he will succeed. All of the above mentioned fellows had noticeable flaws. McCloughan and Donahue were secretive, which is an insecurity mechanism. Erickson had the Wade Phillips look from day one, a guy who would never be confused with greatness. Nolan put too much emphasis on posing as a leader, as though if he looked the part, he would become it. Singletary had an aura of greatness, but a mind belonging to a simpleton. Mr. Bluster.
We’ll see what happens with Harbaugh, and with Trent Baalke. Right now, they both look like Sean Connery in his early James Bond days. Let’s hope they don’t leave town in three years, beaten, battered, and muttering, “I coulda been a contender.”