You’re fired, Coach!
We see it every year and in every sport. A team starts to struggle with a talented roster, and as the season starts to collapse, owners start to panic. After a while, it gets to a breaking point, and a coach or manager gets fired, whether for good reason or just to be a scapegoat. Just this past week, Wade Phillips, who was the Dallas Cowboys’ coach of almost four years, was unsurprisingly fired after leading the Cowboys to a 1–7 start. Although the firing was definitely needed, it leads to a debate over midseason coaching changes. Should owners wait out the storm until the end of the season before making a change? Or should changes be made immediately, in order to salvage some lost seasons?
Even though I am a very impatient fan when it comes to sports, I am a staunch believer in owners waiting until the end of the year to make coaching changes. In most cases, the season is lost and there is no reason to try and turn the team around during the season. Take this year’s Cowboys, for example. Starting off 1–7 in the NFL is basically a guarantee that the team will miss the playoffs. With the firing of Phillips, infamous owner Jerry Jones promoted offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to coach the team for the rest of the year. This change just isn’t necessary. Garrett, who is basically a disciple of Phillips’ system, doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to make drastic changes. I just don’t see a point in hiring a new coach when he is put in a losing situation. Most likely, the players will give up on the season (it looks like they already have), and the rest of the season will just be a disappointing audition for Garrett’s coaching skills. When the offseason comes around, Garrett will be an afterthought in the potential coaching pool because of the rest of this season. He deserves better than this, as he knows all of the players along with their tendencies.
Along with the bad impression that it will leave on the interim coach, there is also an extremely low chance of success in a season with a coaching change. In fact, no NFL interim head coach has made the playoffs since 1970, and no interim head coach has ever made the Super Bowl. What’s the point of changing midseason when you won’t see results? We’ve already established that the team won’t be comfortable with the change and the audition for the coach won’t go well the majority of the time. An argument I hear in favor of midseason changes is the fact that the NFL is such a short season. Oftentimes, people say in a longer season like that in Major League Baseball, which is 162 games, managerial changes have a big chance at turning the team around. However, little do these people know that only 6 percent of managerial changes during midseason have resulted in that team making the playoffs. Long season or short season, coaching changes just don’t work.
Either way, we all know that midseason changes will happen in every sport in every year. We’ve already seen one change in the NFL this year, and there are rumors that there will be a few more to come. Two of the coaches that are feeling the burn of the hot seat are Vikings coach Brad Childress, also known as “Chilly,” and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels. Childress has had a season-long soap opera with famous quarterback Brett Favre while also bringing in prima donna wide receiver Randy Moss before waiving him just last week for detrimental conduct to the team. In fact, three different Vikings players have voiced their displeasure with Childress, with one even saying anonymously on www.espn.com, “We win in spite of him.” Although it isn’t uncommon for players to dislike their coaches, you don’t often hear them declaring so in public. Childress, who has gotten his team to turn around a few after some tough losses, may have saved his job last week with a huge comeback victory to keep Minnesota in the playoff race.
McDaniels, on the other hand, is not having the success he expected when he took the Broncos job in the beginning of last year. After starting the 2009–2010 season with a perfect record of 6–0, McDaniels has led his team to a ridiculously bad 4–14 mark since then, which caused Denver to miss the playoffs in 2009. McDaniels is a classic case of an unproven coach coming into an organization while overestimating his own coaching skills. When he was offensive coordinator for the Patriots, McDaniels had success coaching under the genius of Bill Belichick, who is considered by many to be the best active coach in the NFL. However, McDaniels has yet to show the intelligence and savvy that Belichick had to win multiple Super Bowls. In fact, McDaniels has driven his two best players away through heated stand-offs and eventual trades to other teams. If any team needs a midseason coaching change, it may be the Denver Broncos. These guys need some new direction as soon as possible.
With the success rate of midseason coaching changes, it’s clear to me that “shaking the organization up” just won’t work most of the time. It’s time for owners to realize this, and to acknowledge when a lost season should just be played out by the failing coach. I’ve come to this conclusion: Unless your coach is McDaniels, you shouldn’t be happy if your favorite team just changed its coach midseason.