Coaches address locker room culture and hazing at scouting combine

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

South Beach is the holiday locale everyone wants to visit, but NFL teams want to keep their locker rooms miles away from the troubles of Miami.

Less than one week has passed since the NFL released the Wells report and coaches around the league are now answering questions about the construction of their locker rooms and how they avoid the same nightmare as Miami.

Teams like control. Organizations want to manage their players, oversee performance on the field and perhaps most importantly, own the message. Players hazing each other and taking their story to the media removes the thin veil of carefully crafted public relations that acts like a heat shield to protect the public from some of the ugliness present around the league.

The Miami Dolphins now serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when a player base runs wild with no managerial oversight, and naturally the scouting combine served as the perfect occasion to pepper NFL decision makers with questions about their own organizations.

The normally stoic John Fox openly discussed the growing pains teams are enduring to fashion their organizations for the 21st century and the Broncos' head coach was open about the struggle, rather than portraying spotless perfection.

"Right, wrong or indifferent, I think workplaces are different. You try to create ones with respect, understanding, people come from all over the place, I don't care what kind of work you're in. So I think it's just become more public, we have to be aware of that, questions you ask in the draft process, how guys talk to each other, some dos and don'ts. We're just trying to evolve and get better as organizations, people, I think that's a challenge to all of us.''

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This "challenge" is reconciling traditional NFL principles of "best man plays" with a modern approach that must take into account how a player deals with teammates, his off-field actions and the picture as a whole. Player suspensions and league oversight create a situation where a team has to be considering players who can actually take the field, but also avoiding any possible issues off it -- at every level.

Fox believes the way this battle is won is through taking an approach often spoken of in college ranks, molding minds.

"What I try to remind our staff, this is somebody's son, and if you have children and understanding that, you do try to create that environment. It's combative game, a tough game, there's been some correlations sometimes to the military ... you are dealing with young people, you're trying to help them grow as people, as well of football players, that's the way I approach it.

It's this feedback loop we saw dissolve in Miami and what led to the breakdown of accountability. That starts at the top, which was something Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin owned on Thursday.

"I think you can imagine that when I read the report that you have, and I got the report at the same minute you got it, some of the facts, the behavior, the language that was outlined in the report was inappropriate and it's unacceptable. I'm the one as I mentioned earlier that's in charge of the workplace."

Miami's locker room mishaps might have permanently changed this kind of leadership for the head coaching position. No longer can they oversee the organization from an ivory tower and assume everything is going to plan, waiting to find out what went wrong from a league-wide inquiry.

Coaches are now forced to have an active hand in managing their teams and, more importantly, noticing the kind of details that apparently evaded Philbin for years. Ignorance is no longer an acceptable claim and new Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said publicly that his team won't make the same mistakes. "We really make certain that we try and make certain that hazing does not exist in that atmosphere." In addition he spoke about the responsibility of a head coach to ensure his locker room meets modern standards.

"We're responsible for our players as well. Obviously, that's how we're judged so we have to make certain that we understand that and therefore do everything that we can to make sure it's going in the direction in which we like."

Some might thumb their noses at these quotes as an attempt to "soften" the league by removing  poorly conceived notions of masculinity, but the reality is simply that fans have spoken and the majority expect more out of their players than the misogynistic bullying present in the Wells report. It's about wanting our athletes to play by the same rules every other major corporation requires of its employees and that not macho bravado will keep the NFL in a dominant position in the 21st century.

Quotes provided for this story via transcripts from the NFL Scouting Combine, provided by NFLDraftScout.com.

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