The Ridiculous Coaching Carousel: How Sports Is Failing Fans

William QualkinbushSenior Analyst IDecember 4, 2008

In these trying economic times, the unemployment rate has risen steadily for the past several months.  Considering the condition of the financial markets, this is not surprising; however, some of the names on the list of the unemployed are flat-out shocking.

Names like Tommy Bowden, Tommy Tuberville, Phillip Fulmer, Sylvester Croom, Barry Melrose, and Sam Mitchell find themselves without work today, many of them for little or no reason.  It's a part of a culture in sports that has such paralyzing short-term memory loss that the only thing that matters is what happened last week or yesterday.

Forget all the accolades; set aside all the awards.  If you didn't win your last game in today's sporting world, you may as well get ready to have the seat of your pants scalded.  This unfortunate trend to give up on successful coaches for a short-term bump in the road only revs up ridiculous expectations and has blown salaries absurdly out of proportion.

Firing coaches midseason--or at the beginning of the season--has become the rule rather than the exception.  This includes announcing that a coach will be fired but will "remain with the team through the end of the season," which is just a nice way of saying that there's not an adequate replacement in place, so you're all we've got.

There are quality coaches across the nation on edge because schizophrenic athletic directors or greedy owners/presidents hold the keys to their economic futures.  Any loss could mean hiring a real estate agent and resume-shopping.  In an arena as fragile as athletics, where games are decided by inches on a regular basis, that is no way to operate.

Granted, sometimes a change needs to be made.  That's why nobody can point a finger in anyone's face and say, "This is wrong" or "This is right".  There is no universal way to handle a coaching situation, because every team, every circumstance, every coach is totally different.

In the case of former ESPN great Barry Melrose, fired before the ink was dry on his new contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, there were apparently some irreconcilable differences with the front office that led to his ouster. 

How a general manager and an owner can conduct an interview, decide a guy is perfect for their franchise, hire him with much fanfare, then find out that they goofed because their viewpoints didn't match up (from the looks of things, their viewpoints are not even close) is beyond me.

What exactly did the interview encompass if the question, "What is your philosophy on turning around this franchise?" was never broached?

We expect this kind of thing from hockey, but college football has become NHL lite when it comes to firing successful coaches.

Tommy Bowden was a two-time ACC Coach of the Year, but he never won a championship. Questions were raised concerning how much effort his teams were putting forth.  That coaching change seemed justified enough, because it was for a consistent pattern of falling short and an inability to motivate his team.

Phillip Fulmer, on the other hand, has a national championship ring.  Yes, it was over a decade ago, but just last season, Tennessee played in the SEC title game.  It did so by having a greater conference record than Georgia and Florida, the two teams that they supposedly cannot compete with anymore. 

Fulmer is a winner, he loves his Volunteers more than anything else, and Tennessee gave him a raw deal by letting him go.

Tommy Tuberville had the most recent success, but this situation was doomed from the start.  I mean, the coach should have won a national title just four years ago. 

Yes, he hired an offensive coordinator to run an offense that his team couldn't learn, then fired him before his principles and personnel were in place. He followed this by watching as his team mailed it in and missed a bowl game.  One bad year and he gets the ax?

Sylvester Croom is the reigning SEC Coach of the Year, and now he's out of work?  Sure, the offense under Croom was miserable, but somehow he won eight games a year ago and was recruiting good talent.

Even the NBA has joined the fray, with the Raptors telling Sam Mitchell to take a hike.  You know, the same Sam Mitchell that was the NBA Coach of the Year two seasons ago.  At only one game under .500, the Raptors felt that the season was sinking for a reason that I cannot even begin to think up.

The point of all this is that coaching success does not translate into longevity.  Fans have no patience, and the ones that do don't bother to show up on the message boards. 

Athletic Directors' see three fans upset and they cringe and frenetically conjure up a search committee for a new coach.  GM's look at dollars and cents instead of wins and losses.

This bipolar disorder in the sporting community has to be fixed; there are too many variables for everyone to expect to win every game or fire the coach. 

College coaches need five years to properly build a program; professional coaches normally need two to five, depending on the situation.  Let's give them time to work, to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and stop firing coaches at the first whiff of failure.