Violence (at least to some degree) is a fundamental element of football; and, while it sometimes carries over from the field to the locker room, few would expect it in the coaches’ office. Well, the Oakland Raiders are currently dealing with a situation in which their head coach, Tom Cable, is accused of attacking one of his assistants. Both the NFL and the Napa Valley Police are investigating a physical altercation that reportedly occurred on August 5 between Cable and assistant Randy Hanson. The growing interest in this story has fueled speculation about the possibility of the NFL suspending a head coach for disciplinary reasons.

Although reports on the incident have varied, they generally fall into one of two categories: “Cable upended Hanson’s chair or he punched Hanson in the jaw.” Because of the ongoing investigations by police and the league, details of the confrontation have been scarce. This much is clear: Hanson suffered a broken jaw, and he has cooperated with the police investigation. Hanson’s lawyer, John McGuinn, has called it “a textbook case of felony assault.” As it stands now, Hanson continues to be paid by the Raiders but has been told to stay away from the team’s facility.

As an NFL employee, Tom Cable must comply with the league’s personal conduct policy, which provides that an employee may be disciplined for “violent or threatening behavior among employees whether in or outside the workplace.” If Cable has indeed violated the personal conduct policy, any decision regarding his punishment by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is sure to draw some interest. While an assistant coach being suspended by the NFL is not unprecedented–Dallas Cowboys assistant Wade Wilson was suspended 5 games in 2007 for violating the league’s drug policy–such form of punishment is extremely rare, and fines are generally imposed for misconduct by head coaches. For example, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 (but not suspended) for his role in the well-publicized “Spygate” controversy.

Nevertheless, a head coach facing criminal charges could be uncharted territory for the NFL. Commissioner Goodell has not hesitated to suspend players for misconduct resulting in charges, but not necessarily convictions, for various crimes (e.g., Adam “Pacman” Jones). Based on the similar nature of their misconduct (assaulting a fellow NFL employee), it has been suggested that Cable’s discipline should parallel that imposed on Steve Smith, the Carolina Panthers wide receiver who was suspended for two games in 2008 for punching teammate Ken Lucas. Yet, Smith–who was not subject to criminal investigation–was actually suspended by his team, the Carolina Panthers. Tom Cable, on the other hand, could be charged with a crime; and, frankly, it would not be all that surprising if the Raiders organization refused to discipline their head coach. Indeed, the Raiders have a history of challenging the NFL in litigation.

Moreover, there are enforcement issues with the suspension of a head coach, particularly the concern that it would be “virtually impossible to ensure that the head coach engages in no direct or indirect coaching duties in the days preceding a game.” Interestingly, a recent report claims that, unbeknownst to Tom Cable or the Raiders organization, Randy Hanson has met with some Oakland players since the August 5 incident. If true, this would seem to support the aforementioned enforcement concern. While a final determination by the NFL is not expected until ongoing investigations are complete, Cable’s alleged misconduct is certainly unique and could ultimately result in the suspension of a head coach.

Ethan Flatt

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