While coaches are leaders, one part of their job differs from that of a traditional executive. The people they’re leading are under their supervision for a limited number of years. Other than the rare Belichick-Brady combo or Popovich and his band of merry Spurs, the maximum amount of time a coach spends with his (using the male pronoun but all of this also applies to the distaff side) team is five years – and that’s only when a college player redshirts and uses all his eligibility. Safe to say, though, the length of time will be less, usually between 1-4 years. And that’s for elementary school coaches all the way to those on the professional level.
Still and all, the coach can have a powerful effect on his charges, as long as he understands the relationship is a two-way street. Each side must be loyal to and trusting of each other. Once guys become professionals, the old saying is, “You can tell pros, but you can’t tell them much.” Those guys have so many other “advisers” in their heads, getting them to play hard and together is about the most a coach can hope for. Getting only one of those could cost him his job.
For the overwhelming number of coaching situations, on any level, there is one negative characteristic a coach must avoid at all costs. In truth, it’s difficult for some coaches, possibly because of their competitive nature. That characteristic is stubbornness.
Having been in the field of coaching for 35 years, I’ve seen some stubborn coaches. One of an assistant coach’s primary responsibilities is scouting opponents. Stubborn coaches are the easiest to scout. They have a style and, come hell or high water, that’s the way their teams are going to play. The open minded coaches always have a wrinkle or two you haven’t seen but worry about because you know, if the situation demands it, they’re prepared to use something you’ve never seen.
During my career, I worked for a stubborn coach or two. And I worked for coaches who not only invited outside thoughts but demanded you contribute your ideas. I recall a day at Fresno State when I walked into Jerry Tarkanian’s office, not realizing he had a visitor. The guy was at the white board, showing Tark (who, at the time, was the winningest, by percentage, active college basketball coach in the nation) his zone offense. The previous year he had been a seventh grade coach. We didn’t use the offense but the fact Tark thought he might learn something spoke volumes.
In a brief number of bullet points, here’s why being stubborn leads to a coach’s downfall (which usually translates into losing games and, possibly, his job):
Nobody knows it all.
Everybody can use some help.
There’s a great deal of knowledge out there.
Coaches love to talk X’s and O’s (as well as all things related to the profession).
Tark used to tell stories of how he and Lefty Driesell would sit on the beach, putting sun tan lotion on their bald heads during the annual Nike trip and talk basketball (Nike would take the head coaches of the teams they sponsored on a luxurious cruise or to a lavish resort during the off season – all expenses paid, naturally). I blogged several years ago about how George Raveling, as a young head coach, contacted a handful of coaches he respected and began a self-improvement clinic that lasted 40 years – and how Larry Shyatt and Scott Duncan, currently head and assistant coaches at the University of Wyoming, and I – stole the idea and started one of our own in the 1980s (and that still exists today).
One of today’s most repeated coachspeak words is “share.” Coaches absolutely love it when their teams “share” the ball. It’s the same with knowledge. Over and over you hear that coaching is a copycat profession. One reason is coaches see something one of their colleagues has success with and they incorporate it. Another is more simple. One coach sees something another has done and, unless they’re in the same league (or play each other), he calls the “innovator” and asks about what it is that caught his eye. In nearly every case, sharing is what follows.
Stubborn coaches often have another trait. They’re smug. I mean, why listen to others, including their assistants or players, when they have all the answers. What need is there to be humble. Unfortunately, for those coaches, another characteristic they wind up sharing is getting fired.
Most, if not all, people (coaches included) believe the best coach ever is the late John Wooden. He came up with many prophetic lines during his years leading men. One that he used quite often was:
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”