Falcons’ special teams coach blows a gasket on Hard Knocks

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In an ordinary workplace, a boss who screams obscenities into the faces of his underlings would not be tolerated. One of the lessons that HBO’s Hard Knocks has taught us through the years is that an NFL team is not an ordinary workplace.

On Tuesday night’s episode, Falcons special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong lit into several players with a string of profanity and nasty insults.

“Who do you think you are? The game don’t mean enough to you, and that’s very f–king apparent,” Armstrong told one player during a film session. “You better wake up and get your pride in the game. Go out there and play like s–t? The s–t was coached the right way! I don’t want any excuses, selfish ass. What the hell is this? Look at this crap. Are you kidding me?”

As the team reviewed tape of a blocked punt, Armstrong exploded.

“It ain’t OK to go around here and not know. That ain’t cute. It ain’t OK. Really don’t care. That’s as selfish an act as you can make. Grow the f–k up,” Armstrong said.

Two rookie defensive linemen were singled out for poor play on the field goal unit. Armstrong told Jacques Smith, “You do what I tell you to do. You understand, Smith? You ain’t good enough to be an asshole. Do you understand that? Do you understand that?” And Armstrong told Ra’shede Hageman, “Do you start on defense? No. So what you going to do, sit your ass on the sidelines and watch the goddam game? We got enough people around here doing that s–t. Ain’t important to you.”

Armstrong made a point of explaining to the players that when he’s disappointed with them, he’ll tell them to their faces, “one man talking to another man.”

That’s fine, but Armstrong’s tirade raises some questions about where, exactly, the line is when coaches are addressing their players. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made respect the theme when he opened the owners’ meeting in March. Goodell’s emphasis on respect was a direct result of the situation that unfolded in Miami last year, when Jonathan Martin decided to leave the team because he couldn’t take the way he was being treated in the locker room anymore. Richie Incognito may be wondering why he was suspended and treated like the NFL’s worst villain last year for his unkind treatment of Martin, while Armstrong can insult players with impunity.

An NFL meeting room may never look like an ordinary workplace, but NFL players do have the right to be treated respectfully. Armstrong treated his players with something less than respect.

105 responses to “Falcons’ special teams coach blows a gasket on Hard Knocks

  1. Remember this, because it’s the most passion you’ll see all season from the Atlanta Falcons.

  2. 1. These players are coddled throughout their entire last year of college ball.

    2. A gut check is required to get them in check.

    3. If you watched the whole episode, it worked.

  3. Oh goodness don’t start on this. Stop being so freaking sensitive, there is no line. They are athletes being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars MINIMUM (if they make the team). Coaches can holler all they want. It’s a high pressure high stakes environment.

  4. Richie Incognito’s only crime was to use the “N” WORD. He has never been arrested since being in the NFL compared to 527 other player since 2005. Including 2 for manslaughter and Vick.

    Who is worse ray rice or incognito?

  5. OMG! If the falcons special teams suck this year, they may win only 2 or 3 games instead of the the mighty 4-12 record they posted last year.

  6. I wonder if this coach will get Incognito’d. He’s different than Richie though. I can’t put my finger on it, Yes, something is different so I’m sure he won’t get the Incognito treatment.

  7. “An NFL meeting room may never look like an ordinary workplace, but NFL players do have the right to be treated respectfully. Armstrong treated his players with something less than respect.”

    Are you serious? Do you think this kind of coaching doesn’t go on in the other 31 NFL locker rooms?

  8. I thought it was great (and I’m not a Falcons fan).

    What is becoming of our society when people are upset about this.

    When I was a teenager and got in trouble, my Dad spoke to me like this (several times).

    Now that I’m a 44 year old adult, I’m successful and I’ve always had a great relationship with my Dad.

    All he is trying to do is get them to be the best they can be and help them MAKE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS. He was speaking the truth.

    Non-story.

  9. Coaches can’t yell at their players anymore? Is Hard Knocks airing on the Disney Channel?

    Our high school coaches went off on worse tirades than that.

    – Not Uncle Rico

  10. Yeah! And drill instructors in boot camp need to be nice too! How can they expecting anyone to preform in such stressful situations?! These poor football players…who is going to look out for them? They DESERVE respect.

  11. A part of me agrees with your respect argument. But the other part of me understands why the special teams coach did what he did. He is trying to get the best out of his players and if some of these guys dont turn things around not only will they not be playing for the Falcons–they won’t be playing in the NFL. He’s saving some of these guys hundreds of thousands of dollars that they wont be making if they dont make it as a pro.

  12. Ha! My old high school coach was worse than that and the principal wouldn’t give a rats @ss. This is football, some people are more motivated than others and sometimes things like this happen, they’re men, I think they can handle getting yelled at.

  13. He should be embarrassed how he treated those guys. The great coaches are great teachers. They use mistakes as teaching moments, not an opportunity to call a guy out in front of his teammates. I am not saying that the guy shouldn’t have been called out, but there is much more effective ways to coach and motivate players.

  14. Based on what I’ve seen on Hard Knocks this year, Atlanta is going to have a very long year. I think they had so much success early on despite Mike Smith. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, might make a decent coach someday. The current season has not been very good.

  15. I am starting to think that most sports reporters are just guys who got kicked off the high school team and want to get back at the coaches for it. Another useless story.

  16. Are you serious?

    These guys are going to be getting paid at a MINIMUM close to $500k per year. That is a salary that only few executives make in the office world. So, your comparison to an office environment is way off.

    I watched the Hard Knocks last night and I can tell you this: having worked directly for the CEO of a large company (30,0000 FTE) making less than half what these guys will get, this was not all that different than some of the tirades me and my colleagues would receive on a regular basis.

    Higher pay should mean higher expectation, which means getting called out when you are not producing. Did you notice how those guys responded?

  17. STOP acting like playing football is like working in an office, it isn’t. You are literally ruining the greatest sport ever.

  18. One player might have gotten his feelings hurt, for failing to do his job correctly, then being told how bad he is at his job

  19. The difference is that with Martin, the disrespect was with him being called “weirdo” and being bullied about how he acted. Falcons we’re yelling about performance on the field, not getting personal. Big difference. They should get yelled at if they have a poor performance. It obviously worked, if you saw the end of the show.

  20. I think Mark Cuban may not be as crazy as he sounded when he mentioned the NFL would be it’s own worst enemy and would rapidly decline over the next decade plus. As much as I love all the access provided as a fan, I believe it’s hurting the league. Stories like this that try to make bigger issues out of what should be a private team meeting, by reporters that wouldn’t even have a job if the NFL wasn’t around or as popular as it is are deteriorating the sport faster than anyone could imagine. For anyone that played organized sports, outbursts like these tend to bring a team together. It lights fires under guys who may not be giving 100% and also puts on the table what many on the team are probably thinking. You’re part of the team and are expected to give your all for the overall good of the team, and the fact is some give more than others.There isn’t another job in the world that this kind of tactic would WORK for and comparing this to an office job is absurd. This is football, which used to be thought of as a tough guy sport and is rapidly growing away from that. The hitting is gone, the physical play (all the pre-season interference/illegal contact fouls) is getting out of hand, and now people look for “bullying” situations or coaches being too hard on players. It’s sad really, but it’s slowly turning me off. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  21. What else do you expect from the scrub Falcons? They’ll be lucky to win 4 games again this year. LOL! Geaux Saints!

  22. If you take any company’s CEO, C level execs and senior VPs and put them in a room, it sounds about the same. The rules in a normal organization go out the window when it is the highest level of competition for millions of dollars.

    If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  23. I’ve had plenty of bosses that screamed obscenities at me over the years, so please don’t pretend that is not a normal happening in workplaces all over the US.

    As fas as the coach screaming at the players – Oh noes oh noes the poor players might have their feelings hurt. I think they’ll be hurt a lot more by not being motivated enough to make the team and getting cut.

    The wussification of America continues.

  24. Actually using the “N” word is not a crime. And if it were there would be a lot more “N” words arrested for using said “N” word far more than anybody else.

    The only real crime that was committed was fraud by Jonathan Martin.

  25. Keith Armstrong has been a successful Special Teams Coach in the NFL for many years. I swear profusely but was genuinely surprised by the segment on Hard Knocks. While Mike Smith comes across as a fairly friendly experienced Head Coach, there was no doubt that the tough, crude, ruthless guy on his coaching staff is Armstrong. He went over a players mistake again and again and again and again in front of the team not just to embarrass the player, but to belittle and send a message to all players.
    The Commissioner is probably disgusted by the segment and Armstrong may be in trouble but I could actually see Armstrong becoming a Head Coach because he has such a dominating personality. He makes Bill Parcells and Jim Harbaugh look like a kind and warm human beings.

  26. I wish Keith was back on the Bears. We always had solid special teams when he was here.

    If you think bosses in offices don’t do stuff much, much more abusive I don’t know what to tell you.

  27. Please tell me that Americans haven’t gotten so soft that this is seen as a real problem…

  28. This article is exhibit A why I am happy to see the failcons on hard knocks and happy the Panthers find a way to stay off the program.

  29. If I got paid hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars you could beat me with a two by four. Just make sure my check is on time.
    Welcome to capitalism.

  30. What do you want the coach to do? The guys failed miserably at their protection jobs on special teams. He buried them.

    And what did they do in the next game? It was fixed.

    Looked like solid coaching to me. Please, anyone who thinks this coach went over the top is a wimp.

    God, I remember the days when men were men. What happened?

  31. Seems totally fair considering the line of work and pay involved. I’ll say this though: Armstrong coached special teams for the Bears, originally on Wannstedt’s staff. Whether it was a good play or a bad one, his reaction on the sideline always seemed waaay over the top. Passionate, yes. But maybe beyond the point of being in control of himself. To me, he seemed like a really ambitious high school coach. A few years after Armstrong left, they hired Dave Toub and that’s when the special teams got really good.

  32. I just checked my employee handbook (I work an office job) and there is nothing about not using obscenities. There’s just the usual stuff about not harassing people. Just swearing at someone while you tell them they aren’t doing a good enough job would not fall under a hostile work environment or be harassment.

  33. Good Lord! So we want warriors on the playing field, but princesses in the locker rooms and practice fields? How exactly do you propose they flip that switch? Is someone forcing these guys to play collegiate and professional football? No! They know what they’re signing up for….just as soldiers, law enforcement officers and fire fighters know what they’re signing up for. Nobody holds a gun to anyone’s head in the USA and forces them to take a job.

  34. Give me a break. From the looks of it, the players who were producing and doing what was asked of them were treated with respect. The ones who weren’t were called out in hopes of getting them to take more pride in what they do and correct the behavior. Respect is earned. This not an apples vs. apples situation in regard to the Dolphins at all. Am I missing the deleted scene where the Falcons coach calls someone a half N-word and jokes about raping female members of his family?

  35. We got cursed out for just waking up in the moring at boot camp. Boot camp was longer than Training camp. Don’t feel sorry for them.

  36. I’m a chef, I’m an owner/operator, you don’t want to work for any professional chef if you don’t like yelling directed towards you. Gordon Ramsey is a bit over the top, but not by much.

    My guys are making peanuts compared to NFL athletes. I yell but would also do anything for them because without them I’d be nothing.

    Non-Issue

  37. …another “Right” discovered by the media! New rights equals litigation for those who cross the line. It’s inevitable. In the future, Keith Armstrong will be sued for his transgressions.

  38. I love how people act like swearing and tirades aren’t part of “normal” occupations.

    I’ve made mistakes during my career and I’ve been chewed for some of them. I never went home crying.

    We have to stop acting like sissies.

  39. I know Keith personally from playing golf with him at our club. He is a great guy. If he blew a gasket at these players, they very likely deserved it.

  40. I was totally mesmerized by that scene so much so that I replayed it 4 times before watching the rest of the show. Not only was it great TV, but brought memories of things that happened in the locker room when I played high school football.

  41. Who decides what is or is not “disrespectful”? Is it disrespectful to allow some to wallow in ignorance while others get swiftly with the program? Isn’t it better to provide some verbal cold water in the grill of the non conformer rather than to enable further deterioration of the unit? They will not be harmed by this. It will help make them better and they’ll be ultimately grateful. That would garner respect from both sides. If you want men, let them be treated as men. Bill Parcells would chuckle at this article. Ditka would scoff.

  42. I have had 2 bosses much worse than this in “real life” jobs

    In 1 ear and out the other, as long as the cheque on Fri didnt bounce, I could give a rats arse how loud they screamed

  43. Stop unnecessarily stirring the pot…

    What ever happened to personal responsibility? These men are professionals making enormous salaries compared to middle class America. In fact, in order to be considered in the 1%, you would have to make roughly $480,000 a year. If I’m not mistaken, that’s basically every member of the 53 man roster for every NFL team. Someone needs to hold them accountable for when they aren’t doing their job.

    If a coach needs to yell and use profanity, so be it. My high school coach blew hip top numerous times, and I never went home crying to my parents. I’ve had bosses lose their minds, and I never had the option (or even considered) of filing a law suit.

    Screaming coaches is part of sports. Always has been and always will be, unless the out of control media, and “poor me” apologists continue to cry about anything that makes them uncomfortable.

  44. Let’s just play flag football and have the mom’s coach. We will give everybody a trophy at the end and all will be happy.

    What a joke.

  45. Its articles like this crying about some men getting yelled at for not doing their jobs that undermine the hard work and discipline that used to make this country strong and proud. We need more people who care and have passion for what they do.

    I am thankful for people in my life that crawled my butt to make me a better person. I don’t know where I would be without them.

    Harassment is a totally different from what is happening here.

  46. I don’t exactly know how this correlates to the Incognito nonsense and all the people still trying to make him out to be some kind of innocent victim when he was just as complicit in the horrible Dolphin situation as Martin who seemed to orchestrate his exit from Miami. Armstrong is just going hard on his players, which is part of the job description unless you get a Tony Dungy type as your coach. He was 1000% right on everything he said.

  47. All I can say is this. When your business is basically featuring all millionaires or upper middle class induviduals, then you won’t and should not have an “ordinary” workplace.

    You know why I don’t take that abuse from my boss? Becuase i’m making 38k per year, living paycheck to paycheck.

    If I were making the practice squad minimum in the NFL, I’d be fine taking extra abuse, knowing the benefits that come along with it.

    That being said, I don’t hear most players complaining. They seem to get it. The media and players union seems to want to drum up this sort of sport to office job equality. We always want things to be equal in this country when someone in power knows it will benefit them, either in good standing or control. The NFL does not have to be equal, and this sort of tirade is probably exactly what Rashede needed to hear after loafing in Minnesota during his college career.

  48. Why do I feel the NFL will be doing a lot more preview of what they are showing to the consumer? Just don’t look at how we make the sausage…right NFL?

  49. OMG please. What are we gonna be talking about next? Participation medals for all the players who don’t win the Super Bowl? Man the hell up.

  50. Armstrong’s rant worked. The Falcons special teams units played lights out the game after the tirade.

  51. I have no problem with coaches calling out players but I do have a problem when they go overboard with these ‘faux-Dennis Green style’ meltdown/rants just because there’s a camera in the room. When coaches have to light into a player, it should be ‘team only’, not a youtube moment. It was clear to me at least, that this coach and Brian Cox were also playing to the camera’s somewhat to elevate their own profiles at the player’s expense. The fans don’t have to see everything. Sometimes, you need to close the doors, lock the reporters out and handle team business. Save the cameras for the practice field and coaches discussions.

  52. I dont really agree with his tactics but hey, it worked in their 3rd preseason game. He has the right to be pissed off because its his job to have their special teams ready to play and if he isnt doing his job, hes going to be the one getting fired.

  53. People complaining about this is silly. He never attacked the players person just their performance. He did this because it is his job to motivate them. Some people do well with a pep talk and others need a kick in the butt. Anyone who has ever been a boss knows this. The coach also did this because he cares about the players and wants them to be successful. Would it have been better if he said nothing and just cut them ??

  54. I dont like this. This is like bullying. Singling out guys by naming them on camera. These are kids. That coach thinks that by abusing those players will make them better players and better men?
    This is just classless Coaching. Not fun and not entertaining at all.

  55. All of you defending Incognito, explain your defense of a guy who put a golf club between a woman’s legs at a team charity event. I’ll wait.

  56. When people not doing their jobs can end up costing you your job I would be yelling, too. These players were slacking and he called them out. I was in the Navy for 12 years (95-07) and I see nothing wrong with swearing. This world has gone soft.

  57. I’ve seen Sean Payton cuss the equipment manager worse than that for simply forgetting his Juicy Fruit.

    Steve Jobs used to cuss his employees like dogs. There are legends about this.

    I’m not saying it’s “right,” but if used in conjunction with great leadership, it does tend to get results.

    I’ve had my fair share of cussings. The thing is, they don’t really bother me anymore. What would bother me is that I let my “coach” down. It would upset me more than my boss is that upset because of me. The cussing itself wouldn’t mean crap to me.

  58. I’ve had worse said to me in an office environment. It doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, but it also doesn’t mean Armstrong is out of line.

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