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Your! Call: How should coaches deal with the new officials?

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TSN.ca Staff
9/24/2012 5:49:41 PM
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After another week filled with verbal and physical confrontations involving the NFL's replacement officials, it's become clear that coaches and players are not practicing what they preach when it comes to their interactions with on-field personnel.

Almost to a man, NFL coaches have said they need to avoid confrontations with the replacements and keep focused on the task at hand.

"It's our job to go out there and control what we can control," Bill Belichick said following his team's Sunday night loss to the Baltimore Ravens. "That's what we're going to try to work on...We just have to go out there and try to play the best we can."

Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh echoed Belichick's comments when he spoke to Sports Illustrated's Peter King following his team's win. "These guys [the officials] deserve our respect," Harbaugh said. "This is a tough job, and they're doing the best they can. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not commenting on any of the calls. For us, it's got to be a non-story. You don't want to set yourself up to be thinking about the officials all the time."

Those statements came after a penalty-filled contest that threatened to get out of hand at times. By many accounts, the officials struggled and made a number of curious calls and non-calls.

Still, both Harbaugh and Belichick did nothing to diffuse the situation, as cameras caught them on numerous occasions having animated verbal confrontations that did nothing but add fuel to the fire.

By the end of the night, both teams' players had even gotten into the act, with Ray Lewis and Vince Wilfork in particular coming dangerously close to a physical confrontation – something Belichick actually did following the game - chasing down an official and tugging on his arm.

Watching the game and all the controversy involved in it, you have to wonder - are the NFL's coaches dealing with the replacements in the proper way?

Coaches like Harbaugh and Belichick realize they're always walking a fine line when they talk to the men in stripes. They know that on the one hand, by keeping the pressure on the officials and making them aware of their presence, they are likely to influence a few decisions throughout the course of a game.

However, as we have seen many times this season, coaches have the tendency – despite what they say publicly – to cross the line in their criticism to the point where the focus of both themselves and their teams turns to the officiating and not to executing in the proper way on the field.

So far this season, it seems the successful teams have been the ones who keep their focus on the task at hand and not at the men Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes called "Foot Locker" employees.

This was not any more present then in Denver when Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was at the receiving end of back-to-back personal foul penalties, the second of which completely knocked off his helmet and left him lying prone on the field clutching his head. Although the Texans bench was animated at the time, they quickly regained their focus and took out their frustrations on the hometown Broncos, to the tune of a convincing 31-25 road win.

When asked his opinion on the way NFL teams should handle the replacement officials, TSN CFL analyst Matt Dunigan said the players and coaches should keep the focus solely on their own jobs. "The coaches have to just move forward and so do the players and they have to play within the confines of the way the game is being called now," Dunigan said in an interview with The Mike Richards Show on TSN Radio 1050. "I know you're talking about safety, but you can't harp on it. Those things are out of your control. You go out there and you play football and you work through those things."

Dunigan said it can be to a team's detriment to direct too much attention towards men who aren't playing the game.

"When I call a game, I try not to let the officiating take precedent or become part of the broadcast because I want it to be about football," he said. "Not about throwing your arms up in the air, not to be grabbing referees or officials after the football game. Control the things you can control, between the whistles, between the lines and coach your players up and move on and navigate around it."

With both sides firmly entrenched on their positions - and with Roger Goodell's history of taking firm stances in negotiations - it's hard to envision the lockout ending anytime soon.

So, in the meantime, the NFL's coaches and players will have to find a way to coexist with its replacement officials.

The only question is how should they do that? Should players and coaches continue to have a confrontational relationship, looking to intimidate and influence the men in stripes, hoping to benefit?

Or should they take on a more detached role, focus on their own jobs and take out their frustrations on each other?

As always, it's Your! Call.

John Harbaugh (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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