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Mike Vandermause column: Sparring Lions, 49ers coaches could learn lesson in sportsmanship from McCarthy

Oct. 18, 2011
 
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, left, and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, right, shout at each other after an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. The 49ers won 25-19.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, left, and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, right, shout at each other after an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011. The 49ers won 25-19. / Rick Osentoski/AP

NFL head coaches Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz are the talk of the NFL this week, and not because their teams are riding high with 5-1 records.

No, in what can only be described as the goofy world of professional football, a simple post-game handshake has exploded into a media feeding frenzy.

Following the San Francisco 49ers’ 25-19 victory over the Detroit Lions Sunday at Ford Field, Harbaugh was a little too exuberant when greeting the opposing coach. Schwartz took offense, expletives were exchanged, and the two men had to be separated.

Instead of rehashing a meaningful game between two of the betters teams in the NFC, we are left to ponder proper post-game protocol and find the answers to these gripping questions: Which coach was a bigger jerk? What effect will their unsportsmanlike behavior have on team members, not to mention impressionable children? And why was neither man fined by the NFL, which doesn’t hesitate to hit players in their pocketbooks for wearing the wrong style of socks?

Thanks to Harbaugh and Schwartz, the NFL’s entertainment value climbed to new heights. What is it about two grown men acting like a couple of hyperactive teenagers that has captivated a nation of football fans?

Perhaps we’ve become so bored with the traditional coaches’ handshake that something out of the ordinary captures our fascination.

Head coaches are trained to keep their feelings to themselves and utter nothing but plaudits about an opponent. So when their true colors are exposed, it makes for great theater.

Truth be told, it’s a little refreshing to see Harbaugh and Schwartz reveal their human side. They are ultra competitive, highly driven coaches that clearly wanted to stick it to each other on Sunday.

Harbaugh couldn’t contain his glee after his 49ers knocked off the previously unbeaten Lions, and Schwartz was in no mood to get his nose rubbed in defeat.

So their behavior was understandable, although not excusable. If football players are expected to maintain their composure, then their coaches should lead by example. Both expressed regret over the incident, but the NFL should have sent a message by fining them.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been the head coach of two NFL teams and is familiar with acceptable post-game comportment.

“One thing that I did learn is you’re best to try to keep your emotions under wrap, as hard as it is to do sometimes,” said Capers. “It’s extremely difficult.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was the victim of a post-game snub by former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress at Lambeau Field in 2008.

After the Packers beat the Vikings 24-19 in the season opener, McCarthy found himself alone at midfield after the game, waiting for Childress, who thought it was more important to talk to quarterback Tarvaris Jackson as he was running toward the locker room.

Childress said it wasn’t an intentional slight, but there were serious doubts about that because it came less than two months after the Packers filed a formal complaint with the NFL office accusing the Vikings of tampering with Brett Favre.

McCarthy took the high road and never publicly made an issue out of it, but there’s a strong probability he used the incident to stoke the Packers-Vikings rivalry in the locker room. There was no love lost between McCarthy and Childress, but McCarthy wisely kept that behind closed doors.

Before Sunday, it’s a lesson Harbaugh and Schwartz had yet to learn.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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