It’s not the end of the world when a coach for a professional sports team gets fired. According to Forbes, the average salary for an NFL head coach is nearly six million dollars. Also, take into account that NBA coaching salaries are of the highest in professional sports. Although professional sports is a cut-throat environment, feeling bad for a coach after being let go tends to be hyperbolic. Coaches so sparsely resemble the average American worker, treating it as such would be silly. 

Still, sports fans have the right to question their team when the front office makes that crucial decision. Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers and Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons were the most recent coaches on the chopping block after their teams underachieved. Now, will these firings even make a difference to the teams’ future success? Coaching is essential for player productivity and can make all the difference between the haves and the have-nots in the professional world of sports. Understanding the different philosophies organizations have when firing a coach is important before applying criticism to the front office, so let’s dive right into it.  

 

The Lakers saw Vogel to be charismatic and intelligent, who approached the game with a defense-first mentality. The Los Angeles Lakers then went on to win the 2020 NBA Championship.”

Often a professional coach gets fired because of a change in ownership and/or the general manager (GM). Would it be wise for a new GM to inherit a coach who was working under the past GM? Or would it be better for the new GM to hire the coach that they choose? Ultimately, the GM is the head of operations. They call the shots and create the strategy for a team’s success, so regarding the two questions aforementioned, I would go with the latter. Let’s look at the Los Angeles Lakers for example. Magic Johnson stepped down as Head of Basketball Operations for the team in April of last year, and Rob Pelinka stepped into the role. That offseason, Pelinka parted ways with Luke Walton and went through a deliberative process to find the coach that he ultimately wanted in Frank Vogel. The Lakers saw Vogel to be charismatic and intelligent, who approached the game with a defense-first mentality. The Los Angeles Lakers then went on to win the 2020 NBA Championship. 

In contrast, the Los Angeles Clippers’ coaching staff looked stagnant after the organization went through front office changes. When Steve Ballmer bought the team in 2014, Doc Rivers continued his tenure as head coach and even acted as the GM for some time. His time as GM was a total disaster. At one point Rivers traded for his own son to play for him. This caused uneasiness in the locker room as many players became suspicious of his favoritism.  After consecutive failures in the playoffs, Lawrence Frank replaced Rivers and stepped in as Head of Basketball Operations for the team but allowed Rivers to continue coaching. Doc Rivers blew another 3-1 lead in the 2020 playoffs to a Nuggets team widely considered to be the underdog. Do you see what I am trying to get at? I believe the Clippers organization could have saved themselves from this embarrassment in 2017 when Lawrence Frank took charge. There is a huge difference in methodology between the Lakers’ front office and the Clippers’. Ultimately, I believe his firing is great for the team, but it was long overdue. 

 

“What good is it firing a coach after losing in the playoffs when your best player was not 100 percent healthy? These situations seem to have little-to-no logic, but they happen all the time.”

Some teams make the cut-throat decision strictly based on the numbers in front of them. Take what happened with the Atlanta Falcons and Dan Quinn after they started the 2020 NFL season 0-5. With the team woefully underperforming since their 2017 super bowl run, it’s hard to fault ownership for moving on from Quinn. The Falcons experienced one of the most embarrassing losses in Superbowl history in 2017 after leading the New England Patriots 28-3 in the third quarter. If I were in charge of the Falcons, Quinn would have kicked dirt right after that one. 

Still, I must highlight that firing a coach strictly based on wins and losses can be a huge mistake for a front office. Now, what good is it to fire a coach for losing to an all-time great such as Lebron James in the playoffs? What good is it firing a coach after losing in the playoffs when your best player was not 100 percent healthy? These situations seem to have little-to-no logic, but they happen all the time. A lot of teams seemingly lack an understanding of the value of patience and timing. They try to cut corners, and it ends up backfiring most of the time. 

When coaches get fired irrationally, it throws the entire team out of harmony. In the past decade, the New York Knicks and the Cleveland Browns have each experimented with eight different head coaches in their respective leagues with no success whatsoever. When a coach is perceived as dispensable, players’ attitudes change for the worse, and it translates into losses on the record sheet. I fear that more and more organizations are stooping to this level of incompetence. The Indiana Pacers just parted ways with head coach Nate McMillan, and he was their coach for only four years. That roster was not built to win the championship this year. The decision only disrupted team chemistry and probably set them back five years. I guarantee this decision made Pacers’ players uneasy. In better words, I would not be surprised if Victor Oladipo demands a trade within the next few months! He would definitely look marvelous in that purple and gold!

Bryce Henderson

SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNALIST

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