Bell: A NFL coach's place is in the locker room Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY Sports 8:51 p.m. EDT June 2, 2014(Photo: Jeremy Brevard, USA TODAY Sports)PHILADELPHIA — The voice boomed from the back of the auditorium, without apology.It was Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who was worked up during a question-and-answer session on Saturday during the NFL's career development symposium at the Wharton School of Business.The room was filled with roughly 100 prospective coaches and general managers, hearing all about a favored theme now flowing from league headquarters — respect in the workplace.One young assistant coach fashioned a question referencing a traditional culture in football that held the locker room as strictly the domain of players.Rivera cut loose."Bull(expletive)!" Rivera said. "That locker room is our locker room."Rivera wasn't trying to embarrass the young coach. He was trying to enlighten him.Rivera — who earned NFL Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Panthers to the NFC South crown in 2013 — once had the same view coaches needed not to set foot in the locker room.Now he considers such reluctance as his biggest mistake during his first two years. He says he was unaware of some locker room issues that festered."I didn't know because I wasn't there," he told the audience. "That was my fault. It opened my eyes. I have a vested interest to be in there."Rivera played for just one coach during his nine seasons as an NFL linebacker, Mike Ditka, who rarely came into the locker room and let the players police themselves. He told USA TODAY Sports conversations with former coaches John Madden and Bill Parcells changed his perspective.Typically, Rivera said, the Panthers locker room gets a lot quieter when he visits. He's urged general manager Dave Gettleman to make such rounds, too, and joked the locker room chatter decreases even more when the GM passes through.The point, though, is clear enough — especially after the culture in the Miami Dolphins locker room last season contributed to the game-changing saga that revolved around Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.No doubt, if NFL workplace initiatives are to achieve the desired result of reshaping the culture, the buy-in from coaches is essential. Coaches need to know their place — which is also in the locker room.One of the enduring lessons from the Dolphins scandal was that coach Joe Philbin wasn't prone to visit his locker room, then contended he was clueless about the alleged bullying issues.Rivera alluded to that when recalling a meeting with the NFL Players Association."The first thing they did was throw the head coach under the bus," Rivera said.Philbin also signed off on a "leadership council" that included Incognito and center Mike Pouncey, both implicated in the bullying situation. Martin, who told investigators he had contemplated suicide, left the Dolphins in despair in October.That worst-case scenario is one reason it is unwise to harbor a policy where players choose captains or leadership councils without the coach's approval."If there's a situation that you know is going to fail, you have to get back to the principle, 'What's best for the football team,'" Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, a panelist for the workplace session, told the audience."If you have a fear of addressing that, then you probably shouldn't be a head coach."Reid recalled how legendary Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh preached keeping the locker room open. He also offered insight on how a leadership council that includes a representative from each position group helps him connect with players. He meets with the council every Wednesday morning during the season."Whatever is said in that room, stays in that room," Reid said. "I don't hold grudges. They're not going to get cut because of something they say in that room. I don't go there. But if there's a problem, let's work it out."The job of the coach isn't what it used to be. That notion hit home when St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who wasn't at the symposium, was mentioned.Fisher recently estimated when he began coaching, he spent 80% of his time on X's and O's and 20% in dealing with the culture of his team.Now the numbers are reversed.It's no wonder that Reid opened the session with an acknowledgement."It's a unique workplace," he said.Indeed it is.
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