An NFL locker room is an artificial room, filled with artificial things. No matter how often they're spoken of or how much people attribute to them, the camaraderie, chemistry and heart of a group of people in that room can be lost in an instant -- as if it never existed. Teams that are winning feel a sense of security in their locker room, as if it really is a group of men who love football playing with a united passion led by their head coach who they all follow and respect.
Instead, the locker room is actually akin to a Hollywood green screen or elaborate set. It's the win column that ultimately sets the script, projecting onto that screen or set the teamwork that everyone is talking about. But the moment the losses begin to mount, those same guys begin to check out. One scene, they love the game; the next, they're cashing paychecks.
Perhaps a player like Aaron Maybin makes for an ideal example. For the Buffalo Bills, he sat benched after failing to generate anything close to a pass rush for multiple seasons. He's cut and the Jets pick him up and now he's leading the team in sacks. Scheme plays a part. Coaching plays a part. But so does motivation. One minute, the locker room is a place of harmony and the next it's a cold place filled with all sorts of tension.
The formula is simple: win and the locker room is positive, lose and the locker room is negative. You either have your team or you don't, as a head coach, and it's a slipper slope in the NFL to keep it one way or another.
The tension surrounding a couple of head coaches, then, is rather baffling unless their future is about to change in the near future. Raheem Morris of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is in the midst of a six-game losing streak although a Jaguars game today should change that. The Bucs were playoff darlings last season and Morris was the best young coach of the best young team in the NFL.
Let me repeat: the best young coach of the best young team in the NFL. That's what 10 wins will project in the locker room, and consequently, that's what ever media member reported.
Fast forward a year and articles come out left and right describing the opposite. Morris might get fired after this season. Mike Florio wrote this morning, "Given that Morris has a contract that runs through 2012, the best way to give him a vote of confidence would be to give him an extension. Absent that extension, Morris remains vulnerable to termination after the season. And that’s probably why he has received neither a vote of confidence nor a suspension. The Glazers likely haven’t decided what to do, and they reportedly want to see signs of progress down the stretch."
The locker room, once again, shows itself to be what it is: a green screen. The storytellers only write what they see and all they see is losing. So what's projected is a coach on the edge and a miserable team ready to go through off-season changes.
What is expected of a young team with a young coach? Maturity? Experience? Wisdom? That's what you get when you hire a guy like Morris and put together several young millionaires. They're going to grow together, and that means growing pains. Paying attention to the scene displayed by the media is only to follow the artificiality of the entire up and down affair.
The same can be said for Todd Haley, who has suffered through a litany of media inquiries regarding his own hot seat earlier this year (and will continue to do so if the Chiefs cannot pull off a couple of miracle wins late in the season). Mike Silver of Yahoo! said the tension between Scott Pioli, the Chiefs' general manager, and Haley, the team's head coach, was the league's "worst kept secret." Yet Haley was forced to stand his own ground while the owner and front office failed to adequately quell the rumors with a forceful statement of support.
The Chiefs are in the same boat as the Bucs. Last season they won the AFC West, 10 games and earned a playoff spot unexpectedly. They were a team on the rise with several young dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball. Fast forward a year and they're 5-7 and have laid a lot of eggs this year with lopsided losses at home that have made Chiefs fans cringe game after game. Still they've also suffered injuries to nearly every one of those impact players and have played one of the NFL's toughest schedules.
The scenes change so much in the NFL that to react to them is to admit just how artificial the entire machine is. When all is said and done in New England, the Kraft family will have Bill Belichick enshrined into the team's Hall of Fame and will hold press conferences and give speeches about how much the coach meant to them personally. And yet if Bill ever would have stopped winning at any point, he would have failed to mean anything to them personally as they move on to the next coach.
That's what it means to be artificial. No one really means anything to anyone in a league dominated by so much money. No one really cares about each other in the locker room -- not at least at the cost of something to them. Instead, these friendships and relationships are only built on one thing -- winning and losing -- and as long as the scene is being cast properly, everything is okay.
What is needed with some of these young, volatile teams is a dose of reality amidst the plastic -- to have an owner or general manager say out loud that they're continuing to support the guys that were so hot just one year ago, knowing that the scene changes so often, they'll be celebrating soon anyway.