The coach is always an easy target. If your team looks bad, the knee-jerk reaction is always to blame the coach. If players aren’t living up to their potential, must be the coach’s fault. If there’s a key breakdown at a crucial moment in the game, the coach is clearly an idiot. If your team’s fortunes don’t turn around immediately, this coach must not be the right man for the job. If your kid isn’t getting enough playing time, the coach must have no idea what he’s doing.
Professional and collegiate coaches get paid big bucks, and I’m sure many of you would trade places with them in a heartbeat. Not me. No thank you. I’m not sure the paycheck is worth the constant pressure, scrutiny, hatred, name-calling and second-guessing that coaches put up with from fans, players, and media. Even if you can handle it, what about the toll it takes on your family? Every day, your kids get to hear about why you stink at your job. Entire websites are created just to promote and encourage your firing. Your demise is almost imminent from the moment you take the job, because there is no sympathy, no grace, and zero tolerance in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of sports. These days, owners fire coaches like it’s a bodily function.
Let’s say you’ve got thick skin, and can get past all the material pointing out every reason why you’re an imbecile. Good for you. Now all you’ve got to do is take a group of men, women, or children and turn them into winners. Do that by managing several different personalities, varying backgrounds, an assortment of skill levels, and a dizzying array of attitudes. You have to know who to coddle and who to criticize. Who gets treated tenderly and who gets a dose of tough love? Make sure you earn your players respect, but don’t be too hard on them. Keep things fun and entertaining, but not too fun, because then you’ll lose that respect. Keep players happy with minutes and playing time, and you better know how to massage the ego of your stars and high draft picks. And if you happen to be a high school coach, good luck explaining to parents why Timmy didn’t make varsity. That’s a fun conversation.
If you can somehow balance all those factors and manage to win, you deserve some credit. Don’t expect credit, because you’ll receive almost none. Your cup will runneth over with blame when things go horribly wrong, but credit? Sorry, that goes to your players. Yeah, that’s right, the players who you coached and put in position to succeed. They’re awesome; you’re just a guy in a suit. Now go win again tomorrow night.
Hopefully, you’re into packing and house shopping because coaching at a high level comes with the same job security as an over-eating supermodel. This 2008 article by the New York Times shows the average tenure for a coach in one of the four major sports is between three and four years. The median tenure is much shorter. Jerry Sloan, Bobby Cox, and Jeff Fisher are the exception to the rule, but those coaches are becoming increasingly rare. Consider it a minor miracle if a coach can stay in one place longer than five years. If putting down roots and settling into a community sounds appealing to you and your family, steer clear of the coaching career path.
Some coaches do deserve to get canned and some deserve blame for their mistakes (sorry Les Miles). But before you go screaming at your television and demand your coaches head on a stick, consider all that a coach has to put up with on a daily basis. You’re not at practice, you’re not in the locker room, and you don’t have to ride that bus after a tough loss. If you saw what went on behind the scenes, your opinion of that chucklehead in a tie might happen to change. Most men and women in the profession do it because they love their sport and want to pass on that passion to their players. At the end of the day, they’ve decided all the stress, and insomnia is worth it if they can just make one team or one player better.
Let’s give coaches at every level of sports a little more credit. Trust me, they’re long overdue.