When watching an NFL game, you might see head coaches on the sidelines wearing headsets. Ever wonder who they are talking to and why it’s only coaching staff using the headsets during a football game? Did you know the NFL banned teams from using headsets to communicate with each other back in the ’50s? So why are teams allowed to use headsets now during football games? Find out what these headsets do during a game, who can hear them, why they are back in the game, and more below!
A Brief History of Headsets and Radios in the NFL
In 1956, George Ratterman of the Cleveland Browns was the first player to use a radio helmet during a football game. Three preseason games after George began using the radio helmet, the NFL commissioner, Bert Bell, banned the use of a radio transmitter to communicate during football games. Since it was only the Cleveland Browns using the headset, the league deemed it a form of cheating.
Fast forward to 1994, and the NFL approved the use of Motorola headsets for all NFL teams to use to communicate. The headset concept was a way to improve communication between players and coaches, which results in a better product for fans to watch. Headset communication speeds up action on the field since you did not need players running to the sidelines to hear each play.
The deal in 1994 between Motorola and the NFL was a sponsorship deal to promote Motorola to the NFL audience. Like other sponsorship deals with the NFL, Motorola got unlimited press recognition for bringing in headset communication to the NFL whenever the camera would show coaches talking into them. Bose, as of 2021, is the official headset sponsor now for the NFL.
Part of the agreement with all NFL teams using headsets is identifying which players can hear the plays. For example, a quarterback’s helmet has a green sticker on the back, which signals that the helmet has a speaker inside. Having a green sticker on the back of the helmet clarifies how many players on the team can hear the play from a coach.
Why Do Football Coaches Wear Mics?
NFL coaches wear headsets to speak and listen to each other while the QB and one defenseman only have a speaker. Headset communication between coaches happens both in the press box overlooking the field and on the field during the game. For example, booth coaches have a birds-eye view of the area to relay information to the coach, which can help call a play to a QB or defenseman on the playing field.
Coaches communicate with the quarterback, who runs the offensive, and one defensive player, who runs the defense, on every single play. Both the quarterback and defensive players have radio frequency in their helmets to listen to the coaches. However, the quarterback’s helmet and defenseman only act as a radio receiver and can’t have a two-way conversation between them and their coach.
Do NFL Players Wear Mics?
Unless a player has a mic for ESPN for television reasons, a football player does not have a mic to communicate with coaches or other players. If you are looking for examples of players wearing mics, you can check out the article from Sports Illustrated.
Can Coaches Talk to the QB During a Play?
Coaches can communicate with a quarterback between each play and up to fifteen seconds before the clock runs down. Typically speaking, NFL teams have a playbook in mind when going on the field for offense, so the communication tends to build off that strategy.
What Happens With Less than 15 Seconds?
Once there are 15 seconds or less in the play clock, the radio signal goes silent. The signal going quiet leads to a quarterback making a few decisions:
- The QB can call a timeout (if they have enough timeouts) to sync up with the coach on what play they should run.
- QB’s can call an audible on the line if they feel like the offensive play is compromised by the defensive formation.
- The QB can take a penalty and lose five yards via a delay in action, which resumes communication.
Even if there are more than 15 seconds before the play clock ends, some football players may have a hard time hearing the play during the huddle. For example, playoff games in Kansas City or Seattle tend to have loud crowds. The noisy crowds can make it difficult for the QB to hear the play, so that is why you will see them press their hands to their helmet during a game. Check out why CenturyLink Field is so loud to learn more about crowd noise levels.
Can Other Teams Hijack the Headsets?
There is always a concern that teams might be trying to steal plays from NFL coaches. For example, an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator might cover their mouth when talking into their headset via play calls to limit any lip reading from the other team. However, plenty of NFL teams have had communication failures with their headsets during games. Whether or not the communication failure is from another team interfering or not is unclear. You can read about some of the helmet communication set issues on ESPN to get the whole story.
What Headphones do NFL Coaches Use?
NFL coaches use Bose headsets to communicate with players and coaches during the football game. The official type of headset is the Bose SoundComm B30. The headset has clear wireless communication and the ability to hear players next to them ask a question on the sidelines.
In summary, technology continues changing the game of football to be more efficient. Coaches using headsets can quickly draw up plays and counter plays on the fly by communicating directly to a player on the field. However, sometimes the headsets can cause issues like if the radio frequency drops for any reason. If that happens, it’s up to the players to call the next play on the field.