The Super Bowl
is still a week away and already the annual NFL coaching
carousel is at full tilt. The casualties so far: Tony
Dungy (Tampa Bay), Jim Mora (Indianapolis), Dennis Green
(Minnesota), Mike Riley (San Diego), George Seifert (Carolina),
and Marty Schottenheimer (Washington). In the cases of
Riley and Seifert it’s nearly impossible to argue with
the wisdom behind the moves—neither one of them ever achieved
any real progress. In the cases of Dungy and Green the
moves are odd (both coaches were highly successful on
the whole) but understandable given the fact that their
respective peaks appear to have been reached. Schottenheimer’s
case is the strangest, and it speaks to a very serious
problem with professional sports.
Ordinary folks are
fired every day in corporate America to little fanfare.
This is sensible, as being fired is not something one
normally wants to advertise. People who make their living
in professional athletics, however, live under a different
set of rules. It sometimes feels awkward, but there is
a very good reason for us to know these things about athletes
and coaches: accountability.
have, or more often ought to have, an obligation to their
cities. The presence of a major league team from one of
the Big Four sports can have a huge impact on the local
economy, not to mention that it serves to create some
level of civic pride and cultural unity. In turn, the
people of a given area keep the team afloat by going to
games and buying merchandise. Thus, citizens are de
facto shareholders in their teams. They deserve the
best possible performance and personnel as long as they
continue to show up.
It goes with the
territory of watching pro sports that your team will sometimes
lose, and that they will sometimes go through stretches
where all they seem to do is lose. But teams with solid
management and ownership never embarrass themselves, even
in the bad years.
This brings us to
Daniel Snyder, who
owns the Washington Redskins, fired Marty Schottenheimer
after a first year that was lackluster (8-8) but not awful,
and with the team showing signs of improvement. It takes
a good three to five years to build a program, and only
after that time (barring a lack of progress) can a coach’s
effectiveness be evaluated. Had Schottenheimer been given
this chance it is likely that he would have brought the
same success to the Redskins that he brought to the Browns
and Chiefs in the eighties and nineties. Everywhere he
goes, he wins. Same for Dungy and Green, yet all three
are now looking for work.
There is a new breed
of sports owners—Peter Angelos of the Baltimore Orioles
and Snyder being the two prime examples—who feel qualified
to make decisions related to on-field performance even
though they have little or no expertise in such matters.
In doing so, they disrupt the building and rebuilding
process that all teams undergo and replace it with a strange
brand of inconsistent mediocrity.
What is necessary
here is a redefinition of ownership.
The idea of an owner,
whether in sports or any other large business venture,
having complete control over the decisions made within
that venture is patently absurd. It doesn’t seem that
way, of course, because ownership is such an important
plank in the capitalist platform. The truth is that the
people in the trenches should be making the bulk of the
decisions, as it is they who best understand what will
and will not work. What does Daniel Snyder know about
football? Enough to hire a coach with a proven track record
of success and then bristle at his means—which, conspicuously,
did not include sycophancy. His response is Steve Spurrier—an
amazing college coach with no NFL experience. Should Spurrier
falter, can there be any doubt that he, too, will be out
of a job?
like Daniel Snyder would realize the error of their ways
and adopt a hands-off approach (an approach that works
for many, many teams). In the best case scenario people
with experience in the field would become owners, as is
the case with Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Until that time there’s very little that can be done,
but one has to wonder: how long will people put up with
it before they stop caring completely?