Why blame coaches for their team’s loss, failure?

By Kevin Spitz

The man who holds the record for the highest regular season winning percentage of all time, Avery Johnson, was fired by the Dallas Mavericks yesterday. During his tenure, the Mavericks went to the NBA Finals once and were consistently one of the best teams in the league. From reports in various newspapers and from ESPN.com, though, it seems as if Johnson lost his way with both ownership and the players and it was time for a change.

When it comes to successes and failures, coaching is always a very interesting topic to discuss. What makes a coach so successful for a certain period of time and then have that success disappear?

Looking back at the recent history of Chicago’s two baseball teams, I point out that former White Sox skipper Jerry Manuel won the Coach of the Year award in 2000 for the White Sox’s impressive 95 win season. Four mediocre seasons later, he was fired.

In addition, Dusty Baker won three Coach of the Year awards with San Francisco and was highly touted by the Cubs when he was hired to be the coach that ends the curse. Baker lasted four years before he was fired.

But was it ever really coaching ability that led to their demise? Could it have been? When it comes to strategy in any sport, different coaches have different theories as to what works the best. The ones who can refine those theories and adapt seem to hold up the best, but it’s not like a coach would ever lose those skills once they gain them.

So it would seem to me that the ones who actually determine the outcome of the game are, yes you guessed it, the athletes on the field. Too much emphasis is put on coaching and coaching decisions.

Keep in mind this only goes for pro sports, not college ones. College coaches have a unique job, in that they need to convince talent to come to their program as well as coach them. At the same time, the coach can be blamed for a lot more failures because he is the one recruiting the talent that plays for him. In addition, in college, players still have a lot to learn about fundamentals. There is a lot that coaches can still help teach.

Maybe it’s the status and wealth of our professional athletes today, but I doubt that starters on many clubs are taking advice from their coaches on the correct way to grip a football when they throw, or matters such as that.

So with that being said, it is also a bunch of bologna that a coach is supposed to be the one to motivate his team to the next level.

How about the fact that an athlete is being paid millions of dollars to play a game and represent his team, himself and his fans? Shouldn’t that be enough motivation in itself?

Right now, Brian Urlacher is in the middle of a contract dispute with the Bears. Certainly he deserves a certain pay raise for the amount of work he has put in, but do it in a way that respects a contract you agreed to sign.

The fact of the matter is, it’s the talent that decides the games.

And in this era of athletes who are prima donnas, they are the ones who lead the team even more than the coach. The coaches’ role is reduced to merely an ownership representative. When your team leaders like Urlacher start displaying a poor attitude and things begin to go wrong, a coach is hung out to dry, but it’s not their fault.

Coaches may be given too much credit for wins but are certainly blamed excessively for losses. According to ESPN, following game two of the Mavericks-Hornets series, coach Johnson made sarcastic comments such as “it was (my) fault the players were missing layups, free throws and defensive assignments.”

Certainly he has a valid point. No one in their right mind gives a coach credit if a player makes a layup, and rightfully so. But at the same time, if the problem with a team is individual efforts rather than team play, it’s not the coach’s problem.

As was the case for Dusty Baker, it will not take long for Avery Johnson to find another job. Who knows, maybe the Chicago Bulls will even go after the coach with the top winning percentage in NBA history.

Kevin Spitz is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]