NFL Playoffs

When Coaches Had Class

There’s a saying in football: 'If you look good, you feel good; if you feel good you play good.' (They're football players, not grammarians.) Alas, those words of wisdom don’t seem to apply to today’s masters of the X's and O's, who tend to look more like Average Joes chosen at random from the beer line than the buttoned-up badasses who patrolled the gridiron in days of yore. As another season cranks up, here’s our appreciation of an endangered (if not quite extinct) species: men who looked good and coached, uh, good.

Dick Nolan in 1968.

The Nolans

In the late sixties, Dick Nolan (above) brought Don Draper levels of cool the sidelines of 49er games. Nothing better illustrates the subsequent decline in standards than the case of Nolan’s son Mike, who had to petition the NFL for permission to wear a suit on the sidelines in San Francisco. (Regrettably, the case of Nolan fils is one instance where looking good didn’t translate to a winning record. After three years Nolan lost his job to the fiery—and underdressed—former Bears linebacker Mike Singletary.)

Photo: Newscom

Mike Nolan.

Knute Rockne

He ruled the Golden Domers of Notre Dame like a god—winning a title in ’24—and looked a little like a mob boss doing it.

Photo: Getty Images

Never mind the injured guy—check out the fedora on Rockne.

John McKay

Strangely, for the coach at one of the most expensive universities in America from 1960-1975, John McKay’s look was strictly middle management—clean cut and crisply pressed with short sleeves and businesslike skinny neckwear. His record, though, was anything but middling, as he led the Trojans to four national titles during his tenure.


John McKay.

George Halas

The founder and player-coach of the Chicago Bears did everything from selling tickets to drawing up plays in the dirt and designing the uniforms. When, after his retirement as a player in 1930, he traded the pads for a suit he looked (and, yes, coached) pretty damn good.

Photo: Corbis

Would you dump a bucket of Gatorade on a suit that nice?

Hank Stram

The Kansas City coach, seen here after his team trounced the Vikings in the Super Bowl, even managed to make a team color-crimson cardigan look stylish.

Photo: Getty Images


Paul “Bear” Bryant

No assessment of sideline style is complete without Bear Bryant, whose career at Alabama, rife with wins and controversy, was as checkered as his famous wardrobe.

Photo: Getty Images


Vince Lombardi

The man whose name is on the Super Bowl champs’ trophy famously brought the sturm und drang as coach of the Green Bay Packers. He also cut an iconic figure trolling the sidelines at Lambeau in his trench, tie bar and fashionable-again Poindexter specs.

Photo: Newscom

Lombardi: Very GQ.

Bud Wilkinson

The great University of Oklahoma coach won back-to-back titles in ’55 and ’56 (and three over all), and looked pretty snappy next to Mr. Snappy himself.



Mike Tomlin

The Pittsburgh Steelers coach has what passes for style in today’s league. Even within the schlubby strictures of contemporary sideline attire (embodied by Tomlin’s predecessor Bill Cowher), Tomlin regularly keeps it tailored and crisp. (If only someone would tell him how to do up that suit coat—middle button only, coach.)



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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention When Coaches Had Class | Gilt MANual --

  2. Peter says:

    Yep, coaches used to dress like this. No faux.

  3. Erin says:

    love this story!!! especially the Bear Bryant pic!!! thank you!! wish it was still like this in sports…we can hope

  4. Nate says:

    Haha, the only coach I really care about is Jim Tressell, who is the coach of The Ohio State University Buckeyes in the NCAA. He rocks the sweater vest.

  5. Matthew says:

    Where is Bum Phillips? “Ostrich boots are soft like a teacher’s leg.”

  6. Mac says:

    Thanks for including Hank Stram! A classy coach from KC. I only wish the current KC Chiefs coach would wake up and have some fashion sense.

  7. Bryce says:

    Joe Pa? He’s dressed for work for 61 years on PSU’s sideline: shirt, tie, and slacks, no exception.

  8. C says:

    Inexcusable to leave out Tom Landry. Guy embodied style and grace.

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