The NFL is so high tech now that you can forget how primitive things used to be. So here’s a reminder: a screen shot of Bears assistant Luke Johnsos, phone pressed to his ear, giving instructions to the bench during a 1944 game against the Cleveland Rams at Wrigley Field.
Johnsos isn’t sitting in a coaches box, either. He’s perched in the front row of the upper deck. To his left is a Navy man, presumably on leave. Behind him is a fan consulting what appears to be a game program. (In 1944, when most of the league was away at war — and teams were suiting up anybody with four working limbs — you definitely couldn’t tell the players without a program.)
Johnsos was one of the first “press-box coaches,” as they were called (because they were sometimes seated among the newspaper guys). But the practice goes at least as far back as the 1934 title game between the Giants and Bears – the famed Sneakers Game. In its story the next day, The New York Times reported:
With Lou Little, Columbia’s coach, sitting up in the stands and phoning to the bench, Steve Owen directing down there and [Ken] Strong playing one of the greatest games any back has turned in, the Giants came back to win.
Sources: YouTube, pro-football-reference.com