For Packers assistant coaches, halftime can be a mad dash


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For Packers assistant coaches, halftime can be a mad dash

Green Bay Press Gazette
August 24, 2012
By Rob Demovsky

The second-quarter clock expires. If you’re watching at home, there’s plenty of time for a bathroom break and a trip to the refrigerator. If you’re in the stands at Lambeau Field, you might manage a beer-and-brat run and still make it back to your seat before the third quarter kicks off.

But for the seven Green Bay Packers assistant coaches who work from the seventh-floor press box, halftime is the fastest 12 minutes in football.

It’s when they race from the top floor of the stadium down to the locker room and back. If all goes well —that is, if the elevator is ready (and doesn’t get stuck) and the pathway is clear —they can spend two or three minutes meeting with the other coaches and a minute or two instructing their players before they have to retrace their steps and get back into position for the second half.

“You’re moving quick,” said Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, who is back on press-box duty for the first time since 2006. “You have to be ready for everything. There are land mines around every corner.”

At home games, it’s easier for the Packers’ seven —McAdoo, tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot, assistant offensive line coach Joel Hilgenberg, offensive/special teams assistant John Rushing, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt and defensive assistant Scott McCurley.

When the first half ends, they bolt from their coaches box and run down a hallway where an elevator should be held for them. They descend to the mezzanine level, where golf carts await to drive them a quarter of the way around the stadium on a catwalk that overhangs the concourse. They arrive at a second elevator, which takes them one floor down to the locker-room level. From there, they run past the field’s tunnel, through a set of double doors and down another hallway, where the rest of the coaching staff has gathered outside the locker room.

“For the most part, especially here, they do a great job of getting us up and down quickly,” McAdoo said.

On the road, however, it’s not always that easy.

“In Minnesota, it’s a little less accommodating,” said Fontenot, who has been coaching from the box for five years. “We have to run through a tunnel, up some stairs and into a very small, enclosed space with six other bodies. It’s different at different places. When we go to Philly, we have to run across the field. Every place has its own challenge. Probably the biggest challenge from stadium to stadium is covering a vast amount of space in a short period of time.”

The toughest trek on the road? It might be Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium.

“It’s hard because there you have to go through the fans,” Whitt said.

It used to be that way at many NFL stadiums. Instead of taking the hallways through the bowels of the stadium, the coaches would have to make their way through the stands and onto the field in order to reach the locker room.

“Old RFK Stadium in Washington, when we used to play the Redskins, the fans deliberately would make it hard for us,” Capers said. “They had some veterans there that knew you had to get down, and they liked nothing more than to see you frustrated at not being able to get through.”

Other than the nine years that he was an NFL head coach, Capers has spent his entire 27-year NFL coaching career working from the press box.

“We’ve had a couple of close calls,” Capers said. “You know, that elevator is supposed to be there and available to you, but maybe you were a little late getting there and had to stand there and wait, which can be frustrating. The tempo’s pretty good at halftime.”

Almost every time, he has made it back to the press box in time for the start of the second half. The lone exception was at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1990, when he was the New Orleans Saints’ defensive backs coach and the Saints played the Rams as part of the old American Bowl series.

“That was probably the funniest one,” Capers said. “I had to come down through the crowd, and it was unbelievably hard to get down. By the time I got to the locker room, I had to turn around and just go right back up. Never even talked to anyone. They had already run about two minutes off the clock by the time I got up there, but they weren’t prepared like a normal NFL stadium.”

Capers considered it funny because it was a preseason game. Chances are, he would feel differently if it happened in, say, Week 12.

For most coaches, the fear of not making it back upstairs in time is real.

“I used to have a recurring nightmare in college that I’d go to the store across the street at halftime for something to drink, and I’d look up at the TV and they’re kicking off the second half,” said Fontenot, who played at Texas A&M. “But no, that’s never happened in real life.”

Yet to a man, the coaches all say that the trouble of the halftime locker-room trip is worth it.

“I think it’s a must,” said Fontenot, whose only other way to talk directly to the tight ends during the game is via a telephone line from the press box to the sideline. “I mean 30 seconds is probably the worst-case scenario. I can realistically get a minute or two.”

Before the coaches see the players at halftime, they gather as a staff in the hallway outside the locker room. The offensive assistants meet with coach Mike McCarthy for about two minutes. Meanwhile, Capers meets with the defensive staff. Usually, he already will have a couple of points written down on a transparency that he will place on an overhead projector in the locker room for the players to see.

“You’re talking about by the time we get down here, you maybe have two minutes out here in the hallway (with the coaches), and you go into the locker room and maybe have two or three minutes,” Capers said. “Then, I try to give the assistant coaches two or three minutes with the players, and when I do that I’m on my way back up.”

Said Fontenot: “You say what you have to say in a short amount of time, and then you’re running back on the elevator or running back to the press box. Sometimes, you’ll get back and realize that you have three or four minutes to catch your breath.”

— and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky