Stop blaming coaches for teams’ failures
Fans are spectators for a reason, yet they aren’t content with just watching their favorite teams. Oh no, they feel the need to control and be a part of their teams’ management. Did your team lose last week? Guess you should create a website demanding that the coach be fired. Not liking the way your team is playing? Print T-shirts calling for the front office to be fired, or pay money to fly banners over the stadium during a game demanding change.
One of the toughest and most scrutinized jobs these days in sports is that of head coach. Coaches weren’t always under a microscope, but expectations of a coach in this day and age are changing. Fans are becoming less and less patient and are refusing to “wait ’til next year” or stay quiet and “give the guy a chance.” It’s wrong that for today’s coaches all of a sudden their previous success means nothing, and one or two wrong moves or tough breaks is all it takes to get the axe, the heave-ho, the pink slip.
Larry Coker, the head coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes football team, is walking a tightrope currently, with the Hurricanes losing two of their first three games and barely defeating a mid-major team, a team not from one of the six main conferences, at the University of Houston, 14–13, to improve to 2–2.
Coker started 23–0 at Miami, yet you wouldn’t know it from what Miami fans are saying these days. Fans of these big-name programs have shorter memories than amnesia victims. Fans at Miami take football very seriously and the institution has seen tremendous success in the recent past, having played for 10 national championships in the past 23 years and having won five.
During the game against Houston, some fans showed their anger with Coker by taking to the skies. Three different messages calling for the firing of Coker and athletic director Paul Dee were flown over the stadium. Numerous websites, such as www.cokermustgo.com and www.firecoker.com, have been created bashing Coker and demanding he be fired. The opening statement on cokermustgo.com says, “Larry Coker has made UM stand for University of Mediocrity.” The statement goes on to say, “Coker is killing our program one year at a time. He’s killing the attitudes of our players, the same attitude that has built UM into the dynasty that it is (was).”
It must be the world we live in. Good people aren’t given the opportunity to right the ship that started sinking due mostly to reasons out of their control. Dusty Baker, the now ex-manager of the Chicago Cubs, managed his team to a National-League-worst 65–97 this season. On paper, not renewing his contract makes sense except for the fact that a significant amount of the Cubs payroll was on the disabled list.
Of the Cubs’ five pitchers in the starting rotation on opening day, only two were available at the end. This doesn’t include Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the two pitchers who led the team to the National League Championship Series (NLCS) in 2003 — Baker’s first year as the Cubs manager.
Derrek Lee, the Chicago Cubs’ all-star first baseman, was injured in late April and missed the majority of the season. His injury deeply affected the Cubs team, as they were above .500 prior to the injury and unspeakably worse after.
Baker is a three-time Manager of the Year, and it’s not as if someone’s ability to manage just vanishes into thin air. The Cubs will be hard pressed to find someone of his caliber as his replacement. I’m disappointed to see him go without having another chance to start a season with a full team.
Coaches these days know what they’re getting themselves into when they take a coaching position at these institutions, but it’s not fair for them to have to take the blame for what often-times are things they can’t do anything about.
The players are saying they are the ones at fault and not their coaches. This is the truth too. Managers and coaches aren’t playing the games; they’re standing on the sidelines or in the dugout. “In this game and in sports, period, when a team plays bad, they start at the top,” Cubs outfielder Jacque Jones said. “Maybe some of us should be fired or released, but it’s sad that the manager, the coaches, the [general managers], the presidents — it’s sad that those guys have to go.”
The majority of these coaches, Baker and Coker included, have done so much for their respective sports that goes unnoticed. “There are two messages coming out; it’s not right,” Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden said. “One of them is, ‘Coach, get all our boys graduated. Coach, keep your kids out of trouble, make them go to class, and, oh, Coach, if you don’t win, you’re fired.’
“[Coker’s] kids are getting graduated down there, behaving themselves pretty good. But that’s the way our profession is right now.”
Baker was in a similar boat when Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said, “I tried to factor everything in and make the decision I thought was best for the Cubs at this particular time. In no way, shape, or form is that a slight of ‘Dusty can’t do this, Dusty can’t do that, and somebody else can do it better.’ I felt it was just time to make a change.”
Baker has realized first-hand, and Coker might find out soon, how focused everyone today is on winning now. When things go the slightest bit downhill, talk of firing the coach starts up, and it distracts the team and detracts their focus from their next game.
Unless today’s coaches can come to terms with this and somehow ignore or thrive under the constant criticism, they’d better not get too comfortable in their current position.