Despite the widespread attention devoted to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin stepping on the field during a kickoff on Thanksgiving, NFL coaches are still stepping on the field during plays. And NFL officials are still refusing to call penalties.
The latest example came on Monday night, when 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman sealed a win over the Falcons with an interception return for a touchdown. At the start of that play, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was on the field. When Bowman intercepted the ball and ran the other way, Harbaugh turned and ran too, and so did the official on the sideline, about seven or eight yards beyond Harbaugh. As the official trailed the play, he appeared to alter his path to avoid colliding with Harbaugh, as well as the many other 49ers players and coaches who stepped into the white boundary area to get a closer look at Bowman’s return.
Harbaugh’s violation was nowhere near as flagrant as Tomlin’s because Tomlin was directly in the path of Ravens return man Jacoby Jones, while Harbaugh wasn’t in the path of any players on the field. But Harbaugh was in the official’s way, and the officials are supposed to be focused on the play, not on making sure they don’t run into players and coaches near the sideline. If the official hadn’t noticed Harbaugh, there could have been a collision, just as there was a collision between an official and Dolphins special teams coach Darren Rizzi two weeks ago.
Harbaugh wasn’t flagged and Rizzi wasn’t flagged and Tomlin wasn’t flagged. For whatever reason, NFL officials just don’t flag coaches for standing on the field during plays. Perhaps it will take a coach actually knocking a player to the ground for officials to do something.