All Signs Point to Coach

By Cari Buchwald

One of the most influential people in a person’s life is the coach of their sports team. No matter how athletic the person is or how much they actually enjoy the sport, their coach has the ability to inspire and motivate them in a way that can impact how they handle situations for the rest of their lives. Ask any famous athlete playing sports today who guided them on a path to success and they will credit their coaches from their early playing days for driving them to becoming the best player possible.

In the past few weeks, coaches from both collegiate and professional teams have been fired before the seasons have even finished due to losing records. Among the coaches fired are Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown, Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit, University of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and UC Berkeley coach Jeff Tedford. All of these teams have not performed as well as expected during the season and the blame has been placed on the coaches. The question frequently asked is whether or not firing the coach is the solution to improving a team’s winning record.

Coaches hold the majority of the blame when their teams lose. Whether it was a bad decision for the wrong play, poor use of a timeout or lack of control over their team, it is generally the coach’s fault when a game is lost. This past weekend alone showed this when fans pointed fingers at USC coach Lane Kiffin for the loss during the USC-Notre Dame game blaming it on his poor calls.  However, there are many other factors that contribute to losses that exclude the coach’s influence, such as players’ mistakes, injuries, a lack of communication among players or simply playing a team that is superior. Yet, because the coach is the leader of the team, the loss is simply his responsibility.

Studies have shown that firing a coach does not necessarily improve teams’ records and can even have detrimental effects. Firing coaches for losses is more prevalent in college programs than professional leagues because there is pressure from donors, alumni and students to produce wins and the athletic program needs funding from these sources. Though it is highly expensive to fire a coach and rehire someone new, universities feel it is worth the investment because great athletic programs are what bring in the big bucks. A University of Colorado, Boulder, study found that truly terrible teams that fired coaches saw a slight, temporary improvement in wins and mediocre teams performed worse after firing the coach. For example, The University of Washington and the University of Michigan were both hit with losing records following the firing of their respective football coaches in 2008. However, football teams at Notre Dame and UCLA found improving records with new coaches. Findings from the study can be viewed here.

This past month, the Los Angeles Lakers fired coach Mike Brown after only five games; this was the first time a NBA coach was fired in five games or less in 41 years. The Lakers had recently acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to their all-star roster that already included Kobe Bryant, Pao Gasol and Metta World Peace, and many expected the Lakers to be the leading team in the NBA. However, their preseason performance, starting record of 2-4 and last place status in the Western Conference worried management and ultimately led to the firing of Mike Brown, who would later be replaced by Mike D’Antoni. After all, when an incredibly athletic team is losing, who else can be blamed besides the head coach?

Sometimes it is the coach who knows when his time is done with a program. For example, Derek Dooley declined the chance to coach his last game at the University of Tennessee against the University of Kentucky after being told it would be his last season. Once an elite SEC football team, the University of Tennessee holds a 27-34 record from the past five years under three different football coaches. Though devastated to lose a job he truly loved, Dooley understood that he was not the one who could save the Vols and left the team in the hands of his assistant coach.


Managers justify firing coaches because it is in the “best interest of the future of the team.” However, a replacement coach is not always the correct solution and can often do more harm than good. An effective coach must earn the trust and respect of his team and learn how to make a team of individuals play as a united force, a process that can take many seasons to complete. Forcing a team to adjust to a new coach in a short time can cause conflict and confusion, not to mention a lack of trust, which can affect the way the team plays. If a firing is absolutely necessary, it is best for it to occur at the end of a season so that the new coach can spend the entire off-season learning about his team, creating new ways for the players to win and earning their trust and respect.

In the end, coaches simply have a tough job. It seems they can never win enough, lead enough, motivate enough or teach enough. They never call the right plays, they are not approachable and they do not have control over their players. Of course, every fan, manager and player has their own opinion, but coaches generally have a lose-lose job in which nothing they do is ever 100 percent good enough and they can be fired in the blink of an eye. Hopefully, the trend of terminating coaches will end with the new year and we will see more effective ways to improve losing team’s records.

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