Attentive readers may recall that Uni Watch had high praise at the outset of the NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys, who memorialized Tom Landry with a jersey patch depicting his trademark fedora. The irony is that Landry wouldn’t be allowed to wear his cherished chapeau if he were coaching today, because the league now requires coaches to wear officially licensed NFL sportswear, including polo shirts, windbreakers, varsity-style jackets, and caps. The underlying idea, of course, is merchandising, although that may be an elusive goal, given the portly physiques of some NFL coaches. It’s hard to imagine, for example, even the most passionate Minnesota fan wanting to buy a Vikings jogging suit after seeing one on Dennis Green. (Fortunately, the coaching corps’ most prominent endomorph, Bill Parcells, has retired.)
Early NFL coaches—some of whom, like George Halas and Paul Brown, were also team owners—wore business suits on game day, but standards began slipping in the 1970s, when liberalized menswear fashions led to such unsightly coaching developments as polyester slacks, Ban-Rol waistbands, and wide-lapelled open collars. Landry’s fedora seems quaint compared to some other coaches’ visual signatures during this period, such as Bum Phillips’s cowboy boots and John Madden’s stadium pass dangling from his belt loop. By the time Landry was fired in 1989, he and his protégé Dan Reeves were among the last of the jacket-and-tie set, and NFL coaches had become virtually synonymous with bad clothing.
By placing strictures on coaches’ garb but not giving them actual uniforms per se, the NFL has staked out a middle ground among the major sports. NBA and NHL coaches wear business attire (although the hockey honchos always look just a bit shabby, presumably because it’s hard to develop any fashion sense when you’re growing up in Saskatchewan), while baseball managers don full uniforms (an arrangement rooted in custom, not statute—nothing in baseball’s rule book prohibits managers from wearing civvies, and Connie Mack did just that for half a century). Meanwhile, Dan Reeves, now relegated to wearing polo shirts, continues to coach—his suits in the closet and his tailor no doubt bemoaning the NFL’s dress code.