Coaches need access to locker rooms
Ron Rivera had no idea.
His first two seasons as the Carolina Panthers head coach, Rivera stayed out of the locker room. He was a former player, an All-America linebacker at Cal and a second-round draft pick in 1984 by the Chicago Bears, for whom he played nine seasons and won a Super Bowl. Rivera knew the code: No coaches in the locker room.
But after the Panthers went 6-10 in 2011 and then 7-9 in 2012, Rivera took a group of approximately seven players out to dinner. He wanted to know what they thought about the team, the culture and the program he was trying to build.
"All of a sudden, I start hearing all the bitching and moaning," Rivera said. "This happened. That happened. I'm thinking, 'I didn't see any of that.' But I didn't see it because I wasn't down there, and that was my fault, not theirs."
That's when it clicked for Rivera. That's when he realized the code from the 1980s and 1990s was not going to work in the modern-day NFL. Players now come into the league more pampered. Technology has advanced. Society has evolved.
It is just different now.
The prevailing feeling among the coaches and front-office executives I've talked to is that the best way to avoid another Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin imbroglio such as the one that engulfed the Miami Dolphins last season is for teams to be more transparent. All doors need to be open. Coaches must be welcome in the locker room, and their office doors must remain open.
There must be a healthy dialogue and exchange of information, whether through a player relations representative or a veteran leadership committee, so that players can give head coaches feedback without fear of retribution.
As the great Bill Walsh said: Keep that locker room open.