Tuesday , Dec , 09 , 2008 J.N.

The Very Happy Short Life of an NBA Coach: I am the Scapegoat

The Very Happy Short Life of an NBA Coach: I am the ScapegoatSam Mitchell and Randy Wittman can finally add to the skyrocketing number of unemployment for Christmas. Who is next? Probably Maurice Cheeks of the Philadelphia 76ers despite being the coach of the year in my predictions and Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni. The ever changing musical coaching chairs of the NBA leave most coaches not able to gain a solid foothold on any NBA hardwood. They end up falling down maybe after 2 mediocre seasons. Back in the day, head coaches usually had an average lifespan of 3-4 seasons. Today, they’ll be lucky to finish 2 seasons. Sometimes it looks like coaches have an average lifespan of game by game.

  • Vinny Del Negro signed a 2 year deal.
  • PJ Carlesimo was gone after 1.25 seasons.
  • Larry Brown lasted only one season in New York.
  • Dwane Casey lasted 1.5 seasons in Minnesota.
  • Eric Musselman’s tenure in Golden State was 2 seasons and one season in Sacramento.
  • Stan Van Gundy lasted 2 seasons in Miami after Riley gave him the boot despite having a winning percentage of .605 with the Heat (112-73).
  • Larry Krystkowiak lasted only 1.5 seasons in Milwaukee.
  • Currently, Reggie Theus is in danger of losing his job with Sacramento after only just a season.

What is it about coaches not even lasting 3 seasons on average? The job is as stable as being a 7-11 clerk, a claims adjuster, or some unknown retail/sales job. This is discouraging because if you were given a shot to coach an NBA squad, one has to think, “Oh snap I only have one season or so to turn this around.” Yezzir, it’s true; signing that 5 year deal doesn’t guarantee job security.

What’s with the impatience the past 5 years? Let’s examine the most three successful coaches: Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, and Jerry Sloan. These men not only enjoyed success, but longevity as well. The longevity is what irks me especially with Jerry Sloan as the longest tenured coach in history. What makes them stick around so long besides winning? These men also endured their share of bad seasons and didn’t get fired. What’s up with that? I can only deduce that it’s because of these factors:

  • Players. These men are blessed with having great players. As a coach, if they have a lack of talent, they’re not going to win any game.
  • System. Each has their own unique system to control their players from the Triangle to out executing you to do death a la Utah Jazz.
  • Timing. Great coaches know when to yell and when to turn it down. Players start to tune coaches out around the 4th year of constant yelling and drilling.
  • Psychology. They know how to present new challenges to certain players. They also try to make things work with a difficult disgruntled player.
  • Full Support of Owner and General Manager. Spurs, Lakers, and Jazz fully back their guys no matter what. If their coach has a problem with a player or two, management will get rid of them. These factors are what all 3 men have. It’s no wonder why they’re still there.

On the flipside, I see why other coaches are not so fortunate. Here are their reasons:

  • Players. They’ll lose a lot of games with barely any talent and injuries to your best players.
  • The Internet. It’s filled with knee jerk reactions from hardcore fans in all message boards. Don’t ever think that general managers don’t look at this stuff. They do!
  • Mid-season coaching change. This is the worst position any coach has to inherit. When this happens, the team usually gets a slight boost to win a few games with a good attitude because everyone starts with a clean slate. After this honeymoon period, they resort back to their old ways that got them losing in the first place. Thus begins a game called “Sink the Sub” which we know how to play because we did this in school when our real teacher got sick and the sub took over.
  • Too much preaching. This usually doesn’t work.
  • Free Agency. They better make it work quickly or the franchise player will leave eventually.

This is why coaches become the scapegoats. Usually within a fan base, they have already chosen a player who is the one to blame for all losses. When they run out of excuses, the next guy in the totem pole is the coach; last being the general manager. They can’t fire the players so that’s out of the question. They can only trade them. What happens if a coach has problems that just cannot be fixed with the franchise player and company? I believe the coach should get the hell out of Dodge. He’s outnumbered therefore he’s the problem.

To fix this problem, the Minnesota Timberwolves has the perfect solution. Fire the coach then bring down the general manager to coach the rest of the way. He’s the one who brought in the players. It only makes sense that he should man up to everything. If I was the owner, I would run the proposition with the general manager first just to see if he can coach the guys. If he can’t, I wouldn’t fire the coach. The general manager would be the one to go.

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