Not only do all coaches want to win, they all believe they’re going to win. Maybe not every game, but I’ve never met nor worked for a coach who didn’t truly think his team wouldn’t be a winner. (Is that a quadruple negative? You know what I mean).
In the recent College Football Playoff, each of the four coaches were fairly well scrutinized in terms of their leadership methods and organizational abilities. This past season, all four schools bore the bulls eye on their backs. Florida State was the defending national champions and were undefeated; Alabama has long been the best team in (allegedly) the best conference; Oregon, mainly because of their affiliation with Nike and all the swag and uniform designs were a team others want to beat (in addition to the fact they’ve been a power in the Pac-12), and Ohio State, unquestionably the long-time flag bearer for the Big 10, as well as one of those schools, along with Alabama, synonymous with the college football tradition.
At Florida State Jimbo Fisher not only had to deal with off the field distractions but nearly all of them were about to their best player – the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. And so many of them were incredibly juvenile. Fisher stood tall throughout, never backed down and, whether he enjoyed it or not, seemed to embrace the role of villain. And finished the season as the only undefeated team.
Nick Saban has long been known for (micro-?) managing the Crimson Tide program, thoroughly overseeing each and every aspect of it – from, naturally, practice and game plans, to what their athletes eat and how much sleep they get. With three national championships and a statue, no one questions him.
Mark Helfrich is new to all this, completing only his second season as the Ducks head coach. While he could have tried to simply emulate what his highly successful boss and mentor, Chip Kelly, had accomplished at UO, Helfrich realized he needed to be his own man. No fool he, however, six of his fellow assistants under Kelly remained on staff, making for a much smoother transition for the Ducks.
Urban Meyer won two national titles at Florida – and nearly killed himself doing it. After a year at ESPN (it seems as though an awful lot of coaches, both fired and retired, wind up at the world-wide leader and nearly all of them flourish). That has to say something about the relative difficulty of the jobs. Maybe the studio gig isn’t as lucrative, but a simple means of “staying in the game” while still pulling down a pretty penny. Meyer returned to coaching, signed a contract with his family – more or less promising he would get to know them – and still managed to win it all. Somewhere (naturally in a TV studio), Tony Dungy is nodding his head and smiling.
How is it, then, that each year so many coaches get fired? One reason is the leaders who pull the plug aren’t well-versed in the world of sports. At least that’s the track record of the current version of athletics directors who, as opposed to having toiled in the field of coaching, cut their teeth in the business world (in which everybody can win – of course everybody can lose, too, but then the blame is placed elsewhere, .g. the market or the economy). Another possibility is that the coaches themselves don’t find the job as simple as they originally believed it was.
Case in point: long ago I worked for a head coach (one of the 11 I called boss) who, quite simply, was no more prepared than a goat to perform the duties of the position. A story from my book, Life’s A Joke, will enlighten the reader. Our team was returning from a brief Xmas break and the head man and I were shuttling back and forth between the campus and the airport, picking up the guys as they’d arrive.
As I returned from driving one of our guys to campus, I saw the head coach as he was heading out to the airport. We were having our first practice following the break in a few hours and, with all the hustle and bustle, hadn’t yet had a staff meeting. I asked him if he’d made up a practice plan yet. He said he thought it would be good to warm up first and then, spend the remainder of the time on our defense. As he left, he mentioned he had put together something and a copy of it was on his desk. He said I could run one off for myself and our other assistant.
I walked into our offices, went over to his desk and there on top was the practice plan he’d written. On the sheet it said:
“Warm up. Defense.”
In case you’re wondering, we had a losing season.