Remember when you were starting a dynasty in the old NCAA Football video game, and EA Sports would prompt you to outfit your coach with hopelessly limited options?
Football coaches aren’t the most aesthetically gifted humans. While they get to wear whatever apparel is provided, they aren’t winning any awards for best dressed. Part of that’s just that they’re filtering out as much as they can that isn’t football.
But spring has sprung and a new season of fashion is upon us, so why not get a look at how the men who run the sport outfit themselves? Let’s start from the top down.
The headwear conversation starts with Bear Bryant, whose houndstooth lid is so distinct, they put it on his statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The most iconic visor in the game is the calling card of Steve Spurrier.
Spurrier’s visor is so influential that it’s inspired others, like current Florida coach Dan Mullen, to follow in his stead. Former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze sported the visor as well, and through it, developed a kinship with Spurrier.
But the more common headwear is the baseball cap. Even that can be made iconic, however. See: Miles, Leslie Edwin.
And they serve a functional purpose for the more follically challenged among us — sorry, 2014 Jimbo Fisher.
There are variations. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables goes with a bright neon hat so his defense can see him on the sideline. (More on this later.)
When college football honors The Troops, Syracuse’s Dino Babers (a military brat himself) rolls with the digital camo.
Whatever you want to call it (straw/beachcomber/safari), the wide-brimmed member of the cowboy family is good for shade. Nick Saban wears one during practice.
Bobby Bowden would bust out the Sunday’s-best version on Saturdays.
When you win a game in Texas, it’s time to don a trophy. Here’s Mike Gundy after winning a Texas Bowl.
And who can forget Charlie Strong?
The tech has come a long way from this version in the ‘80s, sported by Bo Schembechler, to the overtly branded ones we have today.
Todd Graham’s Britney Spears derivative was an evolution, as were his colored wristbands.
Coaches like Brady Hoke have come full circle. At Michigan, he wouldn’t wear one so that he could coach the kids up ...
... but that tune changed when he got the interim job at Tennessee. Hooray for product placement!
There are two variations of hoodies: Belichick and non-. Who exactly cuts the sleeves for Belichick? And why does he like this look?
Like normal people just trying to be warm and comfortable, Mike Riley keeps the sleeves, as God intended.
Never forget Mark Mangino’s letterman jacket.
And when it rains, the outerwear comes into play. Here’s Dabo Swinney trying to stay dry.
Adjacent is the windbreaker. Bill Snyder’s is the most curious. After his Wildcats won the Cotton Bowl, he wore a Cotton Bowl windbreaker for the following two seasons. When the Wildcats made the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, he switched. But the Big 12 forced him to ditch bowl windbreakers, because he was rocking swag from games the conference had disaffiliated with.
There probably isn’t another article that’s as unique in a coach’s closet as the shacket. Is it a shirt or is it a jacket? This is the chicken/egg debate that keeps me up at night.
Former Auburn head man Gene Chizik was at the vanguard of shacket chic, and he didn’t even realize it.
He smiles and laughs as the first photos pops up — the “shacket” — which was a term he was apparently unaware of. When we introduced the term to him, he deadpanned to the camera as if he was Jim Halpert.
”So what I had my equipment guy do is, I told him that I don’t like short short-sleeves. So we would get whatever Under Armour sent us and we’d cut the sleeves off of it, we’d hem ‘em,” Chizik said. Similar to Belichick’s signature look, this seems to be a more weather-versatile approach to a cutoff sweatshirt.
”Dana, our equipment guy who’s still at Auburn, would actually custom make all of my game day tops so that they would fit me the way I wanted them to fit.” Chizik liked for the sleeve of the jacket to come down right above the elbow.
Jim McElwain and Bret Bielema rocked versions in 2017.
There’s even a long-sleeved derivative, displayed here by Tom Herman.
Not just for media days and TV appearances.
Step into the Saban spring catalogue. On A-Day in Tuscaloosa, you can spot him dressed to the nines.
The Grandfather of South Florida football preeminence, Howard Schnellenberger, stands in a class of his own on the sidelines.
P.J. Fleck goes for a more contemporary shirt-and-tie look (plus shacket), a nod to the men who influenced him.
One is Mike Nolan, who coached Fleck in San Francisco.
The sweater vest
Fleck’s other mentor is Jim Tressel. Few coaches are as synonymous with a piece of clothing.
Gus Malzahn has been known to don vests, with some performing better than others.
Was requested earlier, so here's the record breakdown of every Gus Malzahn sweater vest. pic.twitter.com/9iLHd6UyNR— Clint Richardson - Auburn Uniform Database (@Clintau24) September 7, 2015
Saban has a gray vest that’s a staple of his practice look.
The full sweater
A vestige of a bygone era when the Vs were deep and the collars were starched. Look at this Snyder fit from 1992.
Former USC coach Larry Smith:
Former Michigan head man Gary Moeller:
And former Ohio State/Arizona State coach John Cooper:
Charlie Strong has mastered the art of the mock.
But former USC coach Pete Carroll nailed the actual turtleneck.
Between turtleneck and polo lies the crewneck. Of its devotees, the most notable are Jim Harbaugh ...
... and Kliff Kingsbury.
Lincoln Riley can play ball in the crewneck game.
As can Ed Orgeron.
Same deal with Gary Patterson, if he’s not wearing the long-sleeve version of the most common option.
And Patterson’s clothing choice is known to have a bearing on on-field performance. In the 2016 Alamo Bowl, Patterson started the game in black, then switched at halftime. The results speak for themselves.
As promised, here’s Patterson in a long-sleeved polo. He’s in black here, but briefly swore off the color after that Alamo Bowl.
These days, polos are cookie-cutter. Almost every coach wears them at various points in the year. Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour debut slightly updated versions of their coaches polos in the offseason, and then they’re sported by the coaches all season. You can have one yourself for like $80.
But they do serve a functional purpose. Check out the guys behind Urban Meyer here:
Those are assistants who signal plays in. To make it easier for the Buckeyes on the field to pick out signals, these coaches are wearing colors that pop in a sea of scarlet.
But, my goodness, was the polo game strong back in the day. Frank Solich:
Bowden yet again:
We’ve arrived at the legs, so thank goodness I have an excuse to use this photo of former Georgia coach Jim Donnan:
Sure, he’s in shorts, but just feast your eyes on this magnificent Hawaiian shirt he sported when the Dawgs played in the 2000 Oahu Bowl. (Some coaches of Pacific Island descent wear island accents to their coaching uniforms that are much less forced. Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo is famous for his lei.)
Besides that, you won’t see shorts in-game too often. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald is an exception.
You will almost always see a coach wearing long khakis (obligatory Harbaugh reference). But now that Derek Dooley’s at Missouri, he can dye his pants yellow and give us a redux of his Volunteer orange slacks:
Check out these puppies on Lou Holtz ...
... and Tom Osborne.
And Temple’s Geoff Collins with the capris-style:
I think Geoff Collins and the tower girl traded pants before the kickoff tonight. Where’s the flood at? pic.twitter.com/73xKMS5ah2— LitiGATOR (@BullGator09) September 20, 2018
The point of contention is pleats. Many a head man has shackled himself to this style. Paul Johnson exhibits the look here, as if wearing Russell Athletic isn’t bad enough.
Jeff Monken and others give me hope that sensibilities are changing and flat-front is en vogue.
It’s mostly the stock athletic shoe provided by the school.
Some coaches take that to the extreme, like Mullen. At Mississippi State, an Adidas school, he leaned heavy into the Yeezy wave.
Now he’s at Florida, a Jordan Brand school soon. His feet remain a tool to appeal to The Youths on the recruiting trail.
Coaches who don’t go sneakers can pull a Harbaugh and wear cleats.
Sideline swagger is an overlooked subculture of the coaching profession.
But even on Saturday afternoon, clothes still make the man.