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Coach Gruden’s dance of anger, hesitancy and disbelief

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Washington, D.C. was abuzz with talk about the Redskins loss to Baltimore. In every office, on every street corner and on many local TV and radio broadcasts--the Monday morning quarterbacks were dissecting plays and talking about how players fell short of the mark, especially RG 111. As is customary, Coach Gruden held a press conference after the game ended, and if you were watching closely his body had much to say—much more than the carefully worded responses he gave to the questions he was asked.

As the postgame press conference opened, Gruden could be seen with his head down, rubbing his eyes and placing his hand briefly over his mouth-- and just before the first question was asked, he pointed his finger at his temple and quickly removed it. These gestures tell us quite a bit about his state of mind at that moment. His lowered head communicated defeat, when he rubbed his eyes he was expressing his disbelief and upset feelings, his hand over his mouth indicated a desire to suppress his thoughts and a general sense of shock—and the finger pointed at his head was a “I feel like I have a gun to my head” gesture.

As the questions were asked there were clear differences in his facial expressions and body movements when specific players were mentioned, especially RG 111, then when he was answering more general questions about the overall team and the season ahead. When the question was about RG 111, Gruden’s glance shifted down which indicated that he was accessing remembered emotional experiences; he thinned his lips, which indicated anger; he jutted his lower lip out which said he was anxious; he scratched or rubbed his nose which tells us he was being less than completely honest or candid with his thoughts—and he frequently shifted his weight from one foot to the other which displays anxiety and upset, unsettling thoughts, a mental shifting between many conflicting images and thoughts—and is a classic signal of self-comfort.

In contrast, when he was asked about the team and the upcoming season, his voice sounded a bit lighter, he used his hands more in gesturing and the palms were open and facing the audience, which is a sign of openness. His posture was straighter, he offered more eye contact and his facial muscles appeared more relaxed. Some anxiety, avoidance and anger were still present—but they were noticeably less present.

What the Coach’s nonverbal communication tells us is that he is not happy with his quarterback. He is angry at his poor performance and notably his “hesitancy” throughout the game. He is anxious that the team didn’t play as they had during pre-season practices and was expressing real concern over not having specific answers as to why or any clear idea about how to go about fixing it. He clearly was shocked at how the game went and was very uncomfortable at having to face the press and fans and talk about his poor start as the new Redskins coach. Given his state of mind after that game, it must have been a pretty tense scene when he met alone afterwards with his team. Their dismal record of many losing seasons and the high rate of Coach turnover puts his reputation and job at risk—no wonder his body was screaming anger and anxiety as loudly as it was.

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