Measuring Success: Coaching vs. Talent, From the Field to NASCAR Track

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IJune 24, 2009

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 16:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, celebrates with his crew members after winning the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship after the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 16, 2008 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

When you ask sports fans to name some of the greatest coaches/managers from recent years, names like Bill Belichick, Phil Jackson, Joe Torre, and Scotty Bowman often top the list.

Why not? These men have led their teams to championships, playoff appearances, and most importantly, sports immortality.

The debate can be made as to whether or not their accomplishments are measured individually or the collective efforts of the team.

Did the Belichick-led New England Patriots teams of the 2000s win their Super Bowl simply cause of their brilliant leader?

Or was it because of the talent all around the team, from the players to the personnel who've arguably created one of the most potent, consistent teams of all-time?

Tom Brady's a heckuva quarterback, with his breakout year of 2007 with 50 touchdowns. But did his team that season go undefeated in regular season play and nearly win the title on Brady's arm alone?

Most definitely not. Media and fans alike acknowledge that those Super Bowl winning teams from Foxboro, Massachusetts won with solid teams, from the defense, special teams, to the coaching staff who pay particular attention to every aspect of the game.

In motorsports, the same debate can be said with the drivers and their "coaches," or the crew chiefs. If you glanced at NASCAR's champions in its 61 year history, most, if not all, of these drivers had an outstanding leader in the pits.

Much like how the star athlete of a team can captivate the attention of the spectators and media at the game, a driver can amaze the fans at each track with their skills negotiating each corner and straight with precision.

However, that talent can only carry the individual so far in the road to success.

Troy Aikman would not be talking about his three Super Bowl titles with the Cowboys if they lacked a running game led by Emmitt Smith.

Steve Yzerman has his array of individual awards compiled throughout his stellar NHL career, but without a solid team backing him up in Detroit, he may not be talking about his Stanley Cup titles with arguably the best hockey team of the 1990s.

As the saying goes, there's no "I" in team—racing is also that kind of game.

Richard Petty is NASCAR's most iconic racer, winning seven championships and 200 races in his illustrious driving career.

Not to diminish Petty's abilities, but those wins and titles would not be possible unless he had the solid pit crew surrounding him, as well as his crew chief in cousin Dale Inman.

In my previous article "From Evernham To Letarte: Who Was Jeff Gordon's Real Chief In 1991, readers who voted on the poll attributed Gordon's successes in racing due to his crew chief Ray Evernham.

The results were not surprising, when you consider the amazing tear that the dynamic duo achieved from 1993 through '99 with 47 victories and three Winston Cup titles.

Dale Earnhardt, Sr. accomplished most of his race wins and titles with crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine, who aided "The Intimidator's" efforts with 29 victories in their title years of 1986, '87, '90, and '91.

Todd Parrott definitely brought out a championship contender in Dale Jarrett when the pair were brought together in the 1996 season.

Together, the sons of racing legends Ned Jarrett and head-wrench Buddy Parrot finished third, second, third, first, fourth, and fifth in the championship standings.

Crew chiefs are absolutely instrumental in a driver's success on the track. Witness:

Kyle Busch may not be the fiery competitor on the track on the Cup circuit if he did not have the leadership of Steve Addington.

Addington's steady manner plays a wonderful counter-behavior role to his "all-or-nothing" driver, which may attribute to the Shrub's conquest of some of NASCAR's toughest circuits like Darlington, Dover, and the road courses of Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

Today's "Evernham and Gordon" would arguably be Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Their success on the track includes 22 race wins during those championship years of 2006-'08, including two Brickyard 400 wins.

Their success on the track are either praised or dismissed by some fans, who feel the pair have found some "grey" areas in fair play.

No matter the reason, Knaus and Johnson are certainly NASCAR's greatest "coach and player," right up there with Jackson's Los Angeles Lakers teams of the decade.

Measuring one's successes, whether it be on the baseball diamonds of America or the grand football stadiums across Europe, can be a damn tricky proposition. Just how much success should be attributed between a coach and their team?

One thing's for certain: without either working in unison, wins and championships can be written out.