Football Coaches Do the Darndest Things (Like Stage Their Own Deaths)

Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

I live in Cleveland, which doesn't seem like a town where a bottle of water could go for $1,701. There's no Rodeo Drive here, no Hollywood sign, no posh salons promising the perfect poodle pedicure.

On the theory that there had to be something else in the water for it to cost $1701, the supplement search started with Beluga caviar and skipped through the alphabet past gold and saffron. Nothing. No clues whatsoever to explain how something so common could cost so much.

Had the label read, "Nectar of the Gods," maybe. But not a bottle of H20 sitting next to an ice bucket on top of an armoire in a hotel room occupied by a Cleveland Browns player during a preseason trip.

(Note to non-sports fans: The Cleveland Browns are an institution in my town and, on rare occasions, a pro football team.)

With the trip finished and the bill now in the hands of organizational number crunchers, Browns' head coach Eric Mangini learned that one of his players had checked out without paying for the water.

Mangini's next move fell right in line with all the control-freak, single-minded, my-way-or-the-highway football coaches of legend. He didn't tell payroll to subtract $3 from the player's next check. He levied a $1,701 fine—the maximum allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

That was my most recent reminder that football coaches—the driven, paranoid, contradictory lot of them—do (and say) the darndest things.

Basketball coach Bob Knight, who took a class or two as a student at Ohio State from the legendary football coach Woody Hayes, once said, "When they get to the bottom of Watergate, they'll find a football coach."

Well, close.

They found President Richard Nixon, a benchwarmer at Whittier College, who once recommended a play to Redskins' head coach George Allen. If there were a Mt. Rushmore of control freak coaches, one stone-faced expression would belong to Allen, who employed a man named Ed Boynton, whom sportswriters aptly nicknamed Double O Boynton—his job was to search the woods around the Redskins field looking for spies.

Lest any detail go unattended, Allen once had a scout chart the position of the sun to try to keep it out of the eyes of his punt-catchers.

(By the way, Allen did run the play Nixon suggested and it lost yards.)

Please Turn Off the Fireworks

The first NFL coach I spent serious time around was Dick Vermeil, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XV, quit citing burnout a few years later, and then later won a title with the St. Louis Rams in his reincarnation.

When Vermeil opened his first training camp on July 4, 1976, he huddled his coaches in a room for meetings and film study that night. When darkness fell, explosions big and small erupted outside.

Vermeil hated anything he considered a distraction. He demanded to know what was going on. An assistant told him that not only was it the Fourth of July, it was the Bicentennial—a celebration of the country's 200th birthday. He was, after all, in suburban Philadelphia, a city that served as midwife in that birth.

"I don't care whose birthday it is," Vermeil railed, "Go tell them to turn it off."

While coaching at UCLA, Vermeil conducted interviews for his staff between midnight and 3 a.m. Those were his down hours.

In Phildelphia, he made daily lists every morning for his wife, his administrative assistant, his personnel man and himself. He slept in his office. On more than one occasion, as the reporter covering the Eagles for an afternoon paper, I'd call Vermeil in his office at 3 or 4 a.m. to check on something. He always answered the phone on the first or second ring, as if it were noon.

"What can I do for you?" he'd say.

After the first season, it became clear that Vermeil's tunnel vision about football prohibited even the slightest bit of working knowledge about almost all other topics. We'd have fun with that in the press corps, occasionally sliding a current event into the discussion just to elicit a blank stare.

My favorite Vermeil story came at practice one day. Workers were erecting scaffolding at one end of the stadium for the upcoming Rolling Stones concert. Hammers and drills were the background music of the day. That sort of distraction drove Vermeil wild.

When he walked over to where we stood for his post-practice press conference, someone mentioned the noise. Vermeil griped about the noise disrupting his practice.

"Dick, are you a fan of the Rolling Stones?" he was asked.

"I don't know much about them," Vermeil said. "But my kids read their magazine."

My only regret is that I never got to ask him about The Monkees. It is not out of the realm of possibility that he would've said, "Look, I've never been to the zoo."

When he showed signs of burning out, the Eagles GM along with Vermeil's wife urged him to set aside some time and meet with the team psychologist.

Carol Vermeil remembers her husband walking into the house after the appointment. "How'd it go?" she asked.

Said Vermeil, "Ah, it would take me a week to straighten that guy out."

Vermeil once waived a player at practice after the kid missed three blocks. The player, free agent, Mike Siegel, left the field disrobing as he went until he wore only a pair of shorts. If Vermeil noticed, he didn't say anything.

Vermeil once redid an entire playbook section because an assistant coach drew the circles and squares representing offensive and defensive players by hand. Vermeil insisted on using a stencil.

During Super Bowl XV when we were in New Orleans, the off-field story of the week was that Oakland defensive lineman John Matuszak had been seen out until all hours on Bourbon Street leading up to the game. Asked what he'd do if one of his players did the same, Vermeil huffed. "They be sent home to Philadelphia on the next plane, he said.

Oakland, with John Matuszak playing, came out loose and focused in Super Bowl XV, beating Vermeil's uptight Eagles, 27-10.

In a Sports Illustrated profile that writer Gary Smith did on Vermeil after his resignation, Carol Vermeil talked about how it was living with her husband.

"I'd say, "Dick, I cut off my arm today but I don't think it's too bad—and he wouldn't even blink," she said.

Great Moments in Football Coaching

October seems as good a time as any to celebrate (for lack of a better word) the American football coach for all his single-minded overwrought tunnel vision. In my 33 years of sports writing, here are a few who commanded my attention:

Joe Gibbs: The legendary Redskins coach is said to have asked his wife to tape dinner-table conversations so he could take the tapes to the Redskins' facility and catch up on what the family was doing.

Dale Christensen: You never heard of him, I'm sure. He was a Illinois high school football coach, who thought it would be a good idea before a playoff game to have his players see him get shot.

Christensen staged the phony shooting in the school cafeteria before a playoff game, ostensibly to motivate his players. Students understandably scrambled for cover after Christensen fell to the floor, fake blood covering his shirt. Two calls to police emergency numbers were made.

In the news account of the incident one player said "the shock of the idea we were going to die" overshadowed any point the coach had been trying to make. Go figure.

Woody Hayes: His sideline rants at OSU were famous, especially the one at the 1978 Gator Bowl that cost him his job after he punched a Clemson player. "When I look in the mirror in the morning, I want to take a swing at me," Hayes once said.

My favorite story about Hayes was just recently shared by a writer, who covered OSU football for the campus paper back in the day. Leonard Downie Jr. said last year that after OSU losses or ties, Hayes would conduct post-game interviews in the nude.

"He was an ugly guy," Downie said, "so it would clear out the locker room pretty fast."

Bear Bryant: Not that football coaches ever overestimate the importance of what they do, but the legendary Alabama coach once said, "If you want to walk the heavenly streets of gold, you gotta know the password, "Roll, tide, roll!"

Jon Gruden: Another NFL coach who, like Gibbs and Dick Vermeil, wore a lack of sleep as a badge of honor. In Tampa he was known as "Jon: 3:11." No, not because he was a ravenous reader of Scripture. But because that's when his alarm went off every morning.

John McKay: Consider McKay's inclusion on this list as an intermission. He wasn't like the others. His approach and especially his dry wit were antidotes for what ails some of football's most driven coaches.

Lots of people probably know the most famous quote attributed to him. His Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a winless and hapless expansion team. Asked after one horrid performance what he thought of his offense's execution, McKay said, "I'm all for it."

A lesser known McKay moment came after his USC team lost 51-0 to Notre Dame. Addressing his Trojans in the locker room, McKay said only, "All those who need showers, take them."

Lee Corso: (Extended Intermission) The former coach at Indiana and current ESPN analyst once said, "Hawaii doesnít win many games in the United States."

Lou Holtz: A misplaced college coach, Holtz came to the New York Jets and tried to line up players for the national anthem according to size. He wrote a team fight song to the tune of "The Caissons Go Rolling Along." He didn't last long for some odd reason.

Tom Coughlin: The Giants head coach has famously fined players for showing up early for meetings. Players are told to be there five minutes ahead of time. Four minutes early? Bam, fined.

As head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he fined players for not wearing socks. Coaches could not wear sunglasses. He once fined two players who were hurt in a car accident while rushing to a team meeting, his reasoning being they would've been late anyway.

Nick Saban: Once turned down an invitation to dine with Geroge W. Bush because the time interfered with his practice schedule. OK, avoiding politicians doesn't reflect too badly on a fellow. But Saban also passed up a chance to play golf at Augusta National for the same reason. That's different. That's a man with a serious problem.

More Dick Vermeil: When the Eagles made the playoffs, CBS wanted to do an interview with Vermeil and his family at home around the Christmas tree. No chance. He hardly ever went home, choosing to sleep in his office. CBS got its interview—but only after it the family and the tree to his office.

Bear Bryant, Take 2: We leave you on this note. Bryant was once asked to contribute $10 to help bury a sportswriter.

According to legend, he said, "Here's a twenty, bury two."

If I'm still above ground, I'll see you in November.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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From Ear to Eternity: When Mike Tyson Bit Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) compete in their rematch in Las Vegas on June 28, 1997. The bout would make sports history.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images

As the 16,000 spectators began filing out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a night of fights on June 28, 1997, MGM employee Mitch Libonati noticed something strange on the floor of the boxing ring. He later described it as being roughly the size of a fingernail, with the texture of a piece of hot dog or sausage.

It was no concession stand remnant. It was a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Wrapping the morsel of flesh in a latex glove, Libonati hurried backstage, where Holyfield was conferring with officials and doctors after his opponent, Mike Tyson, had been disqualified for biting him on the left ear. In all the commotion, Libonati wasn't allowed inside the room. But Michael Grant, one of Holyfield’s training partners, accepted the ear fragment on Holyfield’s behalf.

Libonati’s discovery was the climax to one of boxing’s most controversial and bizarre evenings, one in which "Iron" Mike Tyson—the most famous fighter of his era—meted out a savage reprimand for what he perceived was dirty fighting on the part of Holyfield. The ear-biting far exceeded the brutal underpinnings of boxing and added to Tyson's reputation as a frenzied combatant both in and out of the ring.

 

Mike Tyson’s collision with Evander Holyfield had started when the two were just teenagers. On the amateur circuit, they had sparred together—not quite knowing the heights each would achieve, but understanding the other would be a formidable obstacle if they were to ever meet as professionals.

Evander Holyfield (L) had success against Mike Tyson (R) early on.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Tyson was a prodigy, having won the heavyweight championship of the world in 1986 at the age of 19 and dominating the division up until an upset loss to James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan, in 1990. Holyfield was the lighter fighter at cruiserweight (190 pounds), moving up to the heavyweight division in 1988 and gaining respect for his trilogy with Riddick Bowe.

Long before that fateful night in 1997, Tyson's personal life had started to overshadow his accomplishments inside the ring: An allegedly abusive marriage to actress Robin Givens darkened his image in the media and ended in a very public divorce after just one year. In 1992, a rape conviction sidelined the fighter for more than three years while he served out his prison sentence.

When Tyson returned to the ring, he rattled off a string of wins against fighters not quite at his level, including Peter McNeeley, Buster Mathis Jr., Frank Bruno, and Bruce Seldon. Holyfield had stepped away from competition in 1994, but as Tyson knocked off inferior opponents, talk of a bout with Holyfield intensified. Finally, the two met in Las Vegas on November 9, 1996, with Tyson a 17-1 favorite over the semi-retired Holyfield.

Holyfield would prove his doubters wrong. Through 11 rounds of action, he outmaneuvered and outclassed Tyson by negating his opponent's power with movement and volume. Holyfield also landed headbutts that were declared unintentional, but to Tyson seemed deliberate. Before the fight could see a 12th round, Holyfield knocked Tyson down and earned a technical knockout victory.

 

While it was an undoubtedly disappointing moment for Tyson, an upset in boxing virtually guarantees a lucrative rematch deal. Both men agreed to meet a second time, with Holyfield earning $35 million and Tyson getting $30 million. Tyson’s camp, however, insisted that the referee from the first bout, Mitch Halpern, not be booked for the second, because Tyson felt he failed to call the illegal headbutts. The Nevada State Athletic Commission didn’t want to be seen capitulating to Tyson’s demands, but Halpern stepped aside voluntarily. So referee Mills Lane took his place.

Evander Holyfield (L) and Mike Tyson (R) first met as amateurs.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Before a huge crowd full of A-list celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and a then-record 1.99 million households that had purchased the event on pay-per-view, Tyson and Holyfield met for a second time at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on June 28, 1997. While Holyfield took the first round, Tyson appeared fit and adaptive, and came out blazing in round two. Then, just as Tyson had feared, Holyfield’s headbutt struck him again.

The clash of heads opened a cut over Tyson’s right eye, which threatened to obscure his vision as the fight went on. It also opened a reservoir of frustration in the fighter that would manifest in a spectacularly violent way.

Coming out for the third round, Tyson had forgotten his mouthpiece and had to go back and retrieve it—a foreshadowing of things to come. His aggression was working against Holyfield, but with 40 seconds left in the round, the two clinched up. Tyson moved his mouth so it was near Holyfield’s right ear. With his mouthpiece still in place, he clamped down on the ear, ripped the top off, and spat it along with his mouthguard onto the canvas.

Holyfield jumped up in the air in shock and pain. Referee Mills Lane was initially confused by what had happened until Holyfield’s trainers, Don Turner and Tommy Brooks, yelled out what Tyson had done. Lane called for a doctor then told Marc Ratner, the executive director of the athletic commission, that he was going to end the fight. Ratner asked if he was sure. Seeing Holyfield was bleeding from his ear but otherwise ready to fight, Lane waved the two men back into competition.

Incredibly, Tyson bit Holyfield a second time, this time on the left ear, before the round ended. This time, Lane was aware of what was happening and had seen enough. Before the start of the fourth round, he disqualified Tyson.

 

That was far from the end of it. Realizing he had lost the fight, Tyson grew incensed, shoving Holyfield from behind and pawing at the security guards who had stormed the ring in an attempt to restore order.

After the bout, Tyson didn’t appear to be overly contrite. He explained that he was frustrated at Holyfield headbutting him without being penalized, and said he had lost control.

An emotional Mike Tyson reacts to his disqualification loss to Evander Holyfield.Focus On Sport/Getty Images

“Listen,” Tyson said. “Holyfield is not the tough warrior everyone says he is. He got a nick on his ear and he quit.”

Tyson believed his retaliation was justified. “This is my career," he said. "I’ve got children to raise and this guy keeps butting me, trying to cut me and get me stopped on cuts. I’ve got to retaliate. What else could I do? He didn’t want to fight. I’m ready to fight right now. Regardless of what I did, he’s been butting me for two fights. I got one eye. He’s not impaired. He’s got ears. I’ve got to go home and my kids will be scared of me. Look at me, look at me, look at me!”

Two days later, Tyson issued a tempered apology in an effort to minimize the consequences, but it was too late. In addition to losing his boxing license in the state of Nevada, Tyson was fined 10 percent of his purse, or $3 million, which was thought to be the largest fine in sports at the time.

 

Tyson could never entirely shake the stigma of his actions. When a lucrative bout with Lennox Lewis was being planned in 2002, the fight ultimately ended up taking place in Memphis, Tennessee; Nevada refused to restore Tyson's license following a press conference brawl between the two men.

Tyson ultimately continued competing through 2005, when he lost his last bout to Kevin McBride. Holyfield retired in 2011. Earlier this year, the 54-year-old Tyson expressed a desire to return to the ring. The fighter once known as "The Baddest Man on the Planet" is scheduled to fight Roy Jones Jr. on November 28, 2020. Yet Holyfield, now 57 years old, remains a possible future opponent.

The two have occasionally interacted in public in interviews, with Tyson expressing remorse and Holyfield admitting he briefly thought about biting Tyson on his face right back. The pair even filmed a spot for Foot Locker in which Tyson “gave” Holyfield the missing piece of his ear.

In reality, Holyfield never did get his ear back. After Mitch Libonati handed it over to Michael Grant, the piece somehow fell out of the latex glove while being transported to the hospital.

Many fighters talk about leaving a little piece of themselves in the ring. It’s usually metaphorical. For Evander Holyfield, it was simply the truth.