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The Devil Wears Nike

This aggression on our sport cannot stand

NCAA Football: Big Ten Media Days
Which one is not like the others?
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

These days, it’s tough to drown out the noise.

People are looking at the blue sky through yellow lenses and calling it green. Some with perfect vision are telling the blind that the sky is indeed green, because some are assholes.

In these uncertain times, it’s ever more difficult to parse what’s important, and what is not.

There are only so many hours in a day, and I have only so much outrage to spare.

So I’m here to tell you about a wickedness that has flown under the radar for nearly a quarter century. It started small, but now is permeating the sidelines of every football game we watch. Hiding in plain sight, we all bear witness to a great atrocity, one that would leave Howard Schnellenberger breaking out his Bruno Magli’s:

We must demand our football coaches dress better.

I’ll admit, I’ve mostly ignored this injustice for quite some time.

Growing up a Vikings fan, I was treated to the doldrums of the Mike Tice years. The team wasn’t the best, but dammit did Tice at least appear to have looked in a mirror before he left the house in the morning.

Viking head coach Mike Tice reacts with anger on the sidelines during the second quarter. GENERAL INFORMATION: 10/26/03 - Minneapolis, MN - Vikings vs. New York Giant at the Metrodome
Is Thanksgiving Day Couture so much to ask?

Ever since then, we’ve slowly allowed schlubs with play sheets to poison the water supply.

I’m going to lay 50 percent of the blame on Bill Belichick. People would probably let you wear nothing but a barrel and suspenders if you won six Super Bowls. Most days, Belichick looks like he raided a Southie YMCA’s lost & found on the way to the stadium.

But the other half ? That’s on us. We’ve become complicit in allowing our coaches to appear on national TV a dozenish times a year looking like a Texas pit master, up before the crack of dawn to turn kindling.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

As far as I can tell, the last NFL coach to actually wear a full suit and tie in-game was Mike Nolan, circa 2008.

He has since lost his head coaching job, and his sense of style.

Philadelphia Eagles v San Francisco 49ers
NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

This realization first hit me some years ago, when I got my first real good look at one Philip John Fleck, Jr.

Say whatever you want about his coaching style, but compared to his conference peers, he is the only coach who boasts any sort of style.

Minnesota v Maryland
This look almost makes me wish I didn’t get denied admission to Minnesota
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images
Minnesota v Iowa
Choose your fashion fighter
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Fleck has picked up and adapted the sweater vest look where Jim Tressel left it behind. Many others had ample opportunity to steal this classic piece of fashion after Tressel was smoked out of Columbus, but they actively chose to look like schmucks instead.

I’ve been irked beyond reproach by Kirk Ferentz’ fashion decisions this season. Spandex. Lycra. Polyether-polyurea copolymes invented in an evil lab far removed from a New York Times Styles section. This is what the highest paid public employee in the state of Iowa (and most other states) drapes himself in before he chews gum on live TV for 3 12 hours.

Nebraska v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Just about everyone is guilty of these unutterable fashion faux pas. But some are guiltier than others.

I wouldn’t put Ferentz anywhere near the worst offenders in the conference. That title belongs to Paul Chryst, who’s been wearing the same 4XL sweatshirt since he got off the plane from Pittsburgh.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin
Pictured: a millionaire wearing a tent for pants
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Runners up include Tom Allen, who doesn’t own a pair of pants that fit.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Fitzgerald is another violent fashion offender. He’s constantly dressed as Washed up Linebacker With a Grudge. And he’s in a dogfight with Chryst for the best worst-dressed millionaire north of a Waffle House.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern
This is what I’d wear if I was drunk and felt like robbing a Dominoes
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah
Pictured: a kid at a museum whose teacher let go of the walking rope
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Lovie Smith is out at Illinois. He typically was fine with his outfit decisions. But a beard is like barbecue sauce: it hides mistakes.

Unfortunately for Illinois fans and those who possess the gift of sight, he’s been replaced by Bret Bielema, who ran out of fucks to give back in 2013.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Arkansas
This is what you wear when you’ve given up
Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

With the insertion of Bert back in the Big Ten, we can only assume he’ll re-assume his spot on the fashion runway of vomit. I have hope we’ll see him in the Illinois version of the above attire in 2021, and collectively decide enough is enough.

A special shoutout goes to Mel Tucker, who coached a game at Colorado in shorts last year. I don’t think he has done so yet at Michigan State, but if you’re going to look like you just hit the gym, you might as well show some leg.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Colorado
Next week on BHGP: does Mel Tucker skip leg day? An investigation
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Locksley is only saved because of the marriage between Maryland and sometime (but usually not) swag factory Under Armor.

Still, that doesn’t excuse him from not putting on a tie under this little number:

NCAA Football: Michigan at Maryland
I’d wear the hell out of that jacket
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

And say what you will about Coach Khaki. At least he pairs his belt loop... with an actual belt.

Michigan v Indiana Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

I was somewhat encouraged by what I saw on New Year’s Day. While Dabo Swinney, Nick Saban, Ryan Day, and Brian Kelly—four guys who could individually purchase a controlling stake of every fashion house in France—refused to wear a tie, I did not spot any elastic waistbands.

This is where we’re at. We’re praising men for putting on a belt.

And here’s what irks me the most: these guys are wearing suits when they get to the stadium!

They go out of their way to undress and change into attire best described as “strapping in for a night of binging Ray Donovan while the Missus is at Mah Jong,” not coaching a bunch of young men in bloodsport.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Football: Michigan State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Anderson Independent Mail-USA TODAY Sports
NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not convinced this isn’t some grand conspiracy between Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor, silencing the bidding of Hugo Boss.

My greatest fear is that the lifestyle of Covid has poisoned our fashion sense. I’m guilty myself. As I write this, I’m wearing pants that are meant to look like khakis, but have an elastic waistband and a fake fly. We’ve all gotten so comfortable with comfort, that the arguments for the alternative are drowned out by precisely targeted athleisure wear ads on Instagram.

This disease is infecting the sport of basketball, too. Typically, we’ve seen college hoops coaches wear a suit and tie with comfortable regularity. It’s a breath of dapper air compared to their football brethren.

We’re usually treated to Fran McCaffery and his counterparts donning a decent suit. (I’m leaving Sherman Dillard’s unimpeachable style out of this.)

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Iowa
This picture is from 2017!
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

But recently, Fran has resorted to pullovers that do he and his newfound COVID paunch no favors. We must stop this, while there’s still time.

NCAA Basketball: Western Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There is an easy defense for these coaches: what they’re wearing is team-issued gear. Shoes, socks, polos, and pullovers show up by the truckload to their offices each season. It’s an easy thing to grab, and coaching staffs can actually coordinate game day attire if they’re able to remember their Groupme password.

But again, we’re talking about millionaires here. These aren’t college students who show up two hours early to a game because they actually need the free T-shirt handed out to the first 100 fans.

What’s more, I’m not asking for much. I’m not demanding custom suits and Italian leather loafers and perfect pocket squares picked from John Buccigross’ closet. I’m asking for two to three steps above the bare minimum, which is where we are at right now.

I’m reminded constantly of this perfect line from Mad Men, a perfect show:

As we tune in to the National Championship tonight, keep a close eye on what the coaches are wearing. It might not be yoga pants and a hoodie, but it’ll be damn close. And I can guarantee it won’t be anywhere near the same atmosphere of the aforementioned Schnelly, who knew a suit and tie would never go out of style on the sideline.

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl - Memphis v Florida Atlantic Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Enough is enough. Call your local athletic director. And demand we hold these old men to higher account than we do our local barista.