How do I handle a problematic football coach?

Mar 14, 2023 | Officiating

The relationship between officials and coaches during a game is critical to the game moving as smoothly as possible.

Depending on the coach and the official, that gametime relationship can go very smoothly, or it can devolve into a rocky mess featuring a clash of personalities. It’s important to remember that part of our job is to listen to the head coach, manage his requests, answer his questions, and make sure no one’s actions undermine the integrity and sportsmanship of the game.

While some coaches, fans, players and members of the media think they want officials to be robots, we are still people. The level of “heated” interactions each of us can tolerate differs. Finding the level that you want to engage on – and also where your assignor wants you to step in with a flag – is critical to effectively managing the game.

Key to managing an increasingly problematic situation is to stay calm. Situations can spin out of control if the official meets an angry coach with their own anger. Keep your voice as level as possible and ask the coach to stay in the coaches/team box and talk with you calmly about his concerns. Listen to the coach. He may have a reasonable concern or request, even if his tenor has become unreasonable.

Also key to successfully managing a relationship with a coach is to know when they have crossed the line to abuse. No official ever needs to tolerate abuse from a coach or a player. There are parts of the rules book that specifically address this:

9.8.1 No coach, substitute, athletic trainer or other team attendant shall act in an unsportsmanlike manner once the game officials assume authority for the contest. Examples are, but not limited to:

  • Attempting to influence a decision by a game official.
  • Disrespectfully addressing a game official.
  • Indicating objects to a game official’s decision.

By rule, simply raising his voice to an official could be against the rules. But if you start throwing flags on every coach who raises their voice, you won’t be working football very long.

Every official has their breaking point. It’s important to communicate calmly with the coach – who may be incensed in the moment – throughout the process. Let him know that he’s been heard. Get him the information he may be requesting – again, even if the request is coming with a lot of emotion. 

Warning signs for potential flag-worthy actions including going onto the field to protest a call (in college, this is illegal by rule), inciting other people or using profanity. Any kind of physical or near-physical altercation is grounds for immediate disqualification. 

Regardless of where you are in the country, a coach using any kind of discriminatory slur directed at you is also obviously unsportsmanlike conduct and may be grounds for immediate disqualification. No one – regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation – should hear slurs from a coach or anyone else during the game.

Communicate with your coaches throughout the pregame and game as calmly and effectively as you can. Great communication before the game can devolve quickly as the game unfolds. It’s your job to maintain thoughtful, effective communication, and to know when the coach has truly crossed the line.