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Natty Dressers Disappear From NFL Sidelines

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Natty Dressers Disappear From NFL Sidelines

Natty Dressers Disappear From NFL Sidelines

Natty Dressers Disappear From NFL Sidelines

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Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys watches from the sideline during a game in 1988. Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys watches from the sideline during a game in 1988.

Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

You can look back into athletic antiquity, and the professional dress of baseball managers and basketball and hockey coaches hasn't changed a whit.

The baseball bosses still, as ever, garb themselves in uniforms just like their players. On the court and by the rink, basketball and hockey coaches wear proper suits and ties, sport coats and slacks — as their dignified predecessors did all during the 20th century.

Of course, NBA coaches are the clotheshorses of the profession. Indeed, these Beau Brummels have signed a deal to work only in custom attire designed by Joseph Abboud. But the larger point is: In baseball, basketball and hockey, coaches honor their fathers, garment-wise.

But, oh, it's not so on the gridiron. Football coaches today dress entirely different from their natty predecessors. Until, as best as I can tell, sometime in the 1980s, football coaches dressed like gentlemen who appeared to be merely stopping off at the stadium on their way to church. Coats and ties, absolutely. Stylish camel-hair overcoats were favored when the weather turned chilly. And, oh, the male millinery. I can still see Paul Brown in a snappy straw number. Bear Bryant in his perennial houndstooth. Tom Landry's little fedora that bordered on your porkpie.

These, my friends, were properly attired football coaches.

And then they all began to go to seed. The jackets went first, replaced by Army-Navy-store-style windbreakers. Next, the ties disappeared. Can flip-flops be far behind? The NFL now mandates that its tacky coaches wear special league-logo raiment, but that doesn't mean it's attractive just because it's being modeled. Oh my, never would I have imagined that I would have warm reveries of Weeb Ewbank or Vince Lombardi strolling the sidelines as they would the boulevard.

In fact, something of a nadir was reached last year, when 49ers coach Mike Nolan actually had to petition the league in order to dress with dignity. Unfortunately, clothes did not make the coach — Mr. Nolan was soon fired, suits and all, and the league coaching roster returned to all grunge, all the time.

And, of course, the other way football coaches are so different now from their stylish forebears is that they're wired. Try now, please, to picture Pop Warner or Knute Rockne or Papa George Halas with headsets. It sort of takes all the mystery out of coaching, doesn't it, when these modern Xs-and-Os Einsteins remind you foremost of teenagers walking down the street with iPods?

No, give me a man in a tweed jacket and a rep tie and a snap brim, holding nothing more than a rolled-up program in his hand, prowling the sidelines, unattached to any supporting wires. That was a football coach. Now we have technocrats in Goodwill chic. If only Ralph Lauren had called his line Pigskin instead of Polo, we surely wouldn't be in this sad state.

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