Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thoughts from Sibor Space: The Coaching Problem

by Guest Blogger Doug Sibor

Let’s play a game. If you saw this man, this man, or this man on the street, what would you guess his vocation is? Is he a McDonald’s manager? Perhaps a mall Santa? Surely he is not a leader and role model for a collection of athletes in top physical condition, right? Right?

The men above (Stan Van Gundy, Rex Ryan, and Jack McKeon) are only three examples of coaches in high level sports who have eschewed any modicum of leadership by example. To be kind, they lack many of the physical qualities they no doubt preach to their players, which probably makes it hard to take them seriously when they tell their players to run another sprint*. While they obviously don’t need to be in the peak physical condition that their players are, the road to respectability likely does not run through Burger King.

*It would be a totally different story, though, if they commanded them to take down another Baconator.

This physical difference between coaches and players is a mere symptom of a growing reality: in most sports, coaches are becoming irrelevant. Gone are the days where John Wooden would sit his players down, show them his pyramid of success, and they would subsequently follow his every word. The world we now live in is best summarized by that great poet of our time, Chris Bosh. After a game this past season, Bosh said of his coach, “He wants to work, we wanna chill. I hope he can meet us halfway.”

While I believe that Bosh really does just want to “chill,” I don’t believe that he wants his coach to meet him halfway. When a player joins a team, he enters into a tacit contract with the coach. The coach promises to give the players a system and structure within which they can succeed, and the players agree to work their hardest to make sure the system functions as it should. If all goes according to plan, the team wins and everyone gets paid**. This has been the way things went for the first 50+ years of professional sports.

**Which of course leads to scenes like this.

What is happening now, however, is that those old terms of the contract no longer work for the players. Bosh says he wants to meet in this nebulous halfway point between working and chilling, but who’s to say that would even be good enough for the players? They’re getting paid a lot more than the coaches, and over the last 15 to 20 years they have become self-actualized enough to wield the power that their financial superiority brings. The balance of power has irrevocably shifted to the players.

The coach is now, basically, the franchise’s PR guy. He goes the press and toes the company line, often implementing the classic “positive sandwich” (something nice, then some criticism, then finish with something nice) to talk about his team and players. They supply us consumers of ESPN with enough material to get us through another cycle of Sportscenter. The interesting quotes are left to the players, Rex Ryan notwithstanding. His role has been reduced to glorified cheerleader, and what authority he once had now rests almost entirely with his better-compensated players. And, often, that advantage is still not enough.

The players want more power. I say, let’s give it to them. Let the inmates run the asylum. Most of them don’t listen to their coaches anyway; they’re way too busy checking out the jumbotron, staring at hot girls in the stands, or joking with their teammates to pay attention. Chris Bosh wants to chill? Great! Go to town. Allen Iverson doesn’t want to go to practice? See you at the game, AI!

There is no short supply of supposed “genius” in coaching***, but you mean to tell me that
baseball players will forget how to grab their crotches without their Tony LaRussa’s steady hand
in the dugout? Or basketball players will lose their ability to shoot the ball without vital in-game
instruction from Phil Jackson? Or hockey players will suddenly be unable to fight, since Scotty
Bowman was the one who showed them the beauty of a right hook? Child please.

***There is actually only one: Bill Belichick. He is IBM’s “Watson” to everyone else’s Apple
II. He is also a fashion pioneer. And a noted cougar hunter. He can do anything.

I’m ready to get behind a movement of no coaches allowed. It seems players want to fight their coaches on every little detail, thinking they know better. It’s high time we find out if they really do. It doesn’t matter the sport, although basketball would make the most sense I suspect, but we need to see this experiment unfold. Who wouldn’t watch a team run entirely by the players, with no support staff whatsoever? If it doesn’t work, then professional sports are no worse off than they are now. And, we’ll have images like this to look forward to again.

Doug resides in Boston, is a fan of third world sports, particularly soccer, and is pretty good at using scissors. He might be left-handed, too, but I'm not sure. Check out his blog here. Read his other submissions to The Serum Magazine here.


Anonymous said...

You need to add Sir Alex Ferguson to your list of geniuses.

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