The Heat beat the Wizards Monday night (impressive win), and before the game it was reported that LeBron James and Erik Spoelstra had a discussion that resulted with them being on the same page. That’s all well and good, and probably will last as long as Miami can beat up on the 2nd tier teams in the league, but I want to rewind to something I saw earlier in the day on Monday.
The headline said, “Heat Players growing frustrated with Coach Erik Spoelstra.” I assume we had to add the title, “Coach,” because there are plenty of people out there who don’t know who Erik Spoelstra is, but the Heat were frustrated with him, presumably because they aren’t 18-0. Or maybe ESPN chose this headline to be intentionally bitter. The Heat are ruining everything by being average. Sooner or later football is going to end, and if we aren’t chasing 70 wins, what are we doing? The Heat Index is ruined. Sportscenter leads for February will need to be reworked. Why isn’t this going to plan? Obviously, it’s because of Erik Spoelstra.
The article went on to say that Spoelstra wasn’t letting the players “be themselves.” What does that even mean? Apparently the coach chided the team and LeBron specifically for not being serious at a shoot-around. You know LeBron, world class jokester. He’s like the Donovan McNabb of the NBA. In such a serious environment, the Heat can barely stay above .500. They don’t like Spoelstra’s offense, and claim he’s worried about keeping his job. The audacity of someone making 1/10 what his players make worrying about his job. Especially when people have been calling for Pat Riley since LeBron decided he wanted to spend his prime years being part of a duo, or trio. The sports equivalent of Will Ferrell deciding he only wants to do cameos in his friends’ movies for the rest of his life.
The nicest thing said about Spo? Dwyane Wade said everyone is not doing a good job. He said the coach wasn’t, but he had the courtesy to include everyone else as well. This is an ugly cloud forming over Spoelstra’s head. The unnamed sources whining, the overblown “bump” with LeBron, people going directly to Pat Riley and asking him everything but when he’s going to take over. It’s an unfortunate situation to be in. Spoelstra may be better off getting away from the mess before it taints him for good. If he got out now, at least he could say that Miami hit the panic button and didn’t give him a chance.
With this story in mind, I thought I’d kick around what it means to be a good coach. We’ve had this debate in bits in pieces in the comments section from time to time, but the way I see it a Coach has two realms of responsibility. The first is game-planning/strategy/in-game decisions. These are the things that should actually impact the game. We’ll call this category coaching. The other realm is managing personalities/coddling millionaires/press relations. We’ll call that category babysitting. Now, off the top of my head, using a 1 to 5 scale and combining the score, I’ll rate the difficulty of the big-4 coaching jobs. The higher the score the more difficult the job.
Least Troublesome: MLB
Total Score: 5 points (2 points for Cheerleading/3 for coaching).
I think the hardest thing a baseball manager has to deal with is their schedule. Some might say that 162 games spreads out the focus, makes each game less important. That’s true, but the season is a grind. Any coach will put in long hours, but a baseball manager has 162 press conferences a year. That’s pretty intense. On the field, I think they can be overrated, but a bad manager can certainly cost a team a game. But, baseball doesn’t really have “systems” or “schemes.” You don’t have to put in an offense or anything like that. And, relatively speaking baseball players seem not too difficult to deal with.
Total Score: 6 points (1 for Cheerleading/5 for Coaching)
Hockey is blessed with relatively low salaries. I think it keeps a lot of the players in check. I’m sure you have the occasional troublesome personality to deal with, but I don’t think hockey diva is a term that would gain much traction. Problems with players are often guys who play outside the system, or can’t control themselves on the ice, things of that nature. Not true undermining behavior in my mind. On the ice, the hockey coach has a tough task. Imagine Charlie Manuel trying to handle line changes? There are offensive and defensive systems to maintain. And, my anecdotal evidence would lead me to believe that a hockey coaching change has turned around more seasons than in any other sport.
Total Score: 7 points (5 for Cheerleading/2 for Coaching)
I think NBA coaches, in terms of x’s and o’s are pretty overrated. Or, I should say that at the NBA level a great coach is too easily bested by superior talent on the other side. I think talent drives the NBA more than the other sports, and without a significant amount of talent (at least one superstar player) an NBA coach is mostly hopeless. On the other hand, NBA players I think have the reputation of being among the most difficult to deal with. The Heat story tells you everything you need to know.
Most Troublesome: NFL
Total Score: 8 points (3 for Cheerleading/5 for Coaching)
I said 162 games are brutal, but I wouldn’t want 16 either. That’s a lot riding on a single outcome. NFL coaches are notorious for putting in hellish hours. I think that’s a reflection what each game means. I can’t say for sure if it is true, but we’ve been led to believe that sophistication of offensive and defensive coaching in the NFL is paramount for a successful team. Game-planning. That’s what football has become. The parity in the league also magnifies the coach’s impact. There aren’t many, if any, teams in the league that can get by on talent. As far as dealing with the players, I think that is a tough task as well, simply because of the size of the roster. But, the NFL coach has plenty of people to delegate to, which I’m sure helps with keeping conflicting personalities away from each other.