NFL Coaching Is No Place For An Italian
The ultimate prize in the NFL is the Lombardi trophy, named after legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, who, with quarterback Bart Starr, guided the Pack to the first two NFL Super Bowl victories in 1967 and 1968 to go along with three NFL championships prior to the establishment of the Super Bowl. Lombardi is an NFL legend, one of the few figures from the mid-20th century game whose legacy remains unquestioned despite the seismic rule, strategic, and athletic changes since his heyday in the game. He is, because of all these things, an Italian-American icon.
Today, the Philadelphia Eagles hired another Italian-American, former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, to replace Doug Pederson as their head coach. Unfortunately, if they’re hoping he can replicate his ethnic forebear’s success, they’re sadly mistaken. The Italian has no place among the ranks of NFL head coaches in the 21st century due precisely to those strategic changes that have had no impact on Lombardi’s legacy.
Football as it exists today is a young sport. While it shares aesthetic elements with the game Lombardi coached in the 1950s and ’60s, rule changes in the mid-2000s that opened the game up for passing offenses have transformed it into a game that would be unrecognizable even to the likes of Bill Parcells let alone Lombardi. Innovation at the high school and college levels — from the spread offense to the read option and RPO to the domination of wide receivers across the middle of the field — have lead to offensive complexity that demands a high level of intellect to even keep up with let alone get ahead of. It’s a level that the Italian mind cannot reach, try as it might.
In the 1960s, this wasn’t a problem. All you had to do to be a good coach was make players run until they nearly died of heat stroke, have the restraint to stop them before they did and spout off some inspirational quotes, and luck into having good players. Heat stroke was not much of an issue in mid-century Wisconsin, and Lombardi had inspirational quotes by the bushel:
Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
Winners never quit, and quitters never win.
It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.
Football is like life — it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.
Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.
Lombardi was sort of like football’s Yogi Berra, with the wit replaced by brutal efficiency and single-mindedness. If you were creating a coach for his era from scratch, you’d end up with something like Lombardi. Sadly, that doesn’t cut it now. This quote, given to Eagles beat writer Jeff McLane, sums up the issue facing Italians who want to coach at the NFL level:
“Fairly smart but not super smart” is a high compliment for an Italian. This is no fault of any individual but a cultural and genetic issue. You see, while a normal brain’s capacity to think is generally fully available to its owner, the Italian faces a roadblock: the oversized portion devoted to yearning to be in the Mafia, known colloquially as the “crime lobe.” Compare the below normal brain to that of an Italian:
The crime lobe does not only house the Italian impulse to be a member of the Mafia, though; it also handles the cognitive dissonance that goes along with wanting to commit crimes while also loving police officers, a massive task that makes the Italian mind something of an evolutionary marvel. There are, however, drawbacks to this massive amount of cranial real estate being taken up by crime and crime-adjacent cognition, chief among them a lower level of base level non-crime cognition (example: referring to tomato sauce as “gravy,” the intense tribalism surrounding varying Nonna’s lasagna) and racism. These shortcomings could be overcome when coaching a less complicated form of football — motivation, after all, is a Mafia forte , and in the 1960s the NFL was homogenous enough that white guys could get away with being defensive backs— but do not allow coaches in the modern day to “a make-a the gravy,” so to speak.
Unfortunate as it may be, the Eagles and Nick Sirianni are doomed to go down in history as a cautionary tale: do not hire an Italian for a job that requires a normal or better brain.