Every organization needs a “get-back coach”

The sideline’s unsung hero.
The sideline’s unsung hero.
Image: AP Photo/Gail Burton
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Ted Rath’s official title on the Los Angeles Rams staff roster is director of strength training and performance. But his job on game days sounds way more fun: to follow his boss around and discreetly shove him back into place when he steps out of line.

Rath is a “get-back coach,” an unofficial role held by at least one person on every team in the National Football League, where coaches or players can incur penalties for wandering off the sidelines and onto the field during games. According to the NFL, the get-back coach is the staff member tasked with ensuring that players and coaches, well, get back, staying within boundaries and adhering to sidelines rules.

In practice, this means shuttling thanklessly along the sidelines paying attention to lines and rules that no one else seems to care about, herding overzealous colleagues back into place just before they get penalized or flattened.

“Typically it’s the strength and conditioning coach for each team, because he’s got some muscle,” Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera told NFL Films in a recent short on the art of get-back coaching. On the Panthers, that role is filled by Joe Kenn, a strength and conditioning coach with an enormous chest, no neck, and a restraining arm like a railroad crossing gate.

Arguably every leader needs a get-back coach: a person who quietly reins them in when enthusiasm threatens to push them to dangerous places. If you are a manager, you may not even realize that someone is doing this work for you. If you are your organization’s get-back coach, you are probably all too conscious of it.

“He’s good at pretty much everything else in life, but the one thing I would say Sean McVay is not good at his situational awareness of the actual sideline in-game,” Rath said. During games he simply does that work for McVay, following him around and gently nudging him out of the path of referees and running backs like a khaki-clad dance partner.

McVay acknowledged that Rath’s role is “one of those thankless jobs that . . . only get recognized if you’re not getting it done,” something his colleague is well aware of.

“He’s never told me thank you. I stand by him all game and prevent penalties,” Rath said with mock indignation in the video. “You’re welcome, Sean.”

It may be a more vital role than either of them realize. Rath had to stay behind in Los Angeles for medical reasons when the Rams traveled to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII and wasn’t behind McVay for the big game. McVay didn’t wander anywhere illegally, but the Rams lost to the New England Patriots, 3-13.