Cory’s Corner: Does coaching really matter?

This has truly been the year of the coach in sports.

First it was Jim Harbaugh. The well-known ‘berserker’ made the word obnoxious seem tame. And after a career overall record of 49-22-1 in four years, which included one Super Bowl appearance, the San Francisco 49ers decided to roll up the worn-out welcome mat.

Then there was Tom Thibodeau. The oft-criticized Chicago Bulls coach was a well-known defensive dictator. He may have had a 255-139 regular season record in five years — including capturing the Coach of the Year in 2010-11. But none of that matters when you have no regard for your player’s health and you fail to speak to your general manager for four months.

Both of these are great coaches. Obviously, it didn’t take long for Harbaugh’s alma mater to back up the maize and blue armored truck and Thibodeau will coach again in the NBA.

But how much does coaching really matter?

In an age when athletes have been specialized before they were teenagers, pro coaches are now more of a psychologist than a true tactician.

Egos are more of an issue in today’s pro locker rooms than fundamentals. And the reason is because of money. Every move a player makes is categorized and kept forever online. Heck, I can look up a quarterback’s career pass interception percentage at the drop of a mouse. (Coincidentally, Aaron Rodgers is in the lead with 1.6 percent and Eddie LeBaron and Bob Waterfield bring up the rear with 7.9.)

We know that Rodgers will have more autonomy next year when it comes to playcalling. So, aside from assembling 11 starters on each side of the ball — which will be a breeze on offense — coach Mike McCarthy won’t have as many chances to micromanage.

Don’t get me wrong, pro coaches and managers still have a decision to make. But after assembling starters, the biggest question among the NFL, MLB and NBA is to review or not to review. Instant replay has turned today’s pro coaches into sideline TV directors. If they show enough intestinal fortitude to challenge a play, fans still take the easy way out by playing hindsight and criticizing the negative result.

One of the main reasons Harbaugh had to leave was because he couldn’t teach Colin Kaepernick the nuance of playing quarterback in the NFL. He tried to tell him what it takes to stick and stay in the league, but Kaepernick didn’t exactly show a lot of interest in that lecture.

And that’s why it didn’t surprise me that Harbaugh took a step back by giving it the old college try. At the college level, Harbaugh is hoping that he can mine kids that are coachable and hungry enough to play on Sundays. Not just guys that are comfortable to be there.

McCarthy has the ultimate equalizer with the best quarterback in the game. He knows that even if he makes a mistake or two with a challenge or a personnel decision, there’s a decent chance that Rodgers can swallow that thorny blunder with a great play.

That isn’t happening in places like Houston, Arizona, San Francisco, Buffalo, Cleveland and Kansas City where the defense and running game share the burden.

It all comes down to players. The same players that have been coddled and over-coached since they were 8. By the time a player makes it to the pros, they’ve seen plenty of different looks from the opponent and are poised to take the next step.

And that’s where the psychologist’s couch comes in. The majority of pro coaches and managers may not want to moonlight as Frasier Crane, but that’s how they can make the biggest impact.

Understanding the pulse of your team doesn’t happen between the white lines. It happens on a long plane flight or over a postgame beer.

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Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn

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  • Big T

    Great article. Coaching is more like running a daycare these days. #1 keep your kids out of trouble. #2 Keep them from fighting with each other. #3 Put them in time out when they are bad boys. #4 When they do the job that they are getting paid millions to do, stroke the hell out of that ego. #5 Change their diapers at halftime. #6 If they can’t be potty trained… send them to the Vikings. MM has to be mommy and daddy to the whole roster and TT is grandpa Ted. I have a little bit more respect for them now.

    • NemoOutis

      Don’t get too carried away, now. Respect for Grandpa Ted? Respect has to be earned. Let’s see if he earns it by adding at least 2 more SBs before A-rod retires.

      • TedTomsin

        You are right Nemo. Ted doesn’t deserve any respect just yet after only winning one super bowl. Anyone who does give him any respect for the little he’s done so far is either a moron or simply a TT Kool-Aid drinker like myself.
        Ted

        • NemoOutis

          One SB throughout a 10 year tenure despite having back-to-back Hall of Fame QBs throughout those years simply is not good enough to put him on a pedestal or to worship him the way you do. It certainly wouldn’t be enough to put him into the Hall of Fame. There are some who believe TT has cost the team several SBs with poor drafts and a failure to be more productive in free agency but I don’t engage in such speculation. And, I’ve never called anyone who comments on this site a “moron,” not even you, nor have I ever called you a “Kool-Aid drinker,” although, I must admit, I have warned you not to drink the TT-cult’s Kool Aid. Hopefully, you’ll follow my advice.

  • Mark

    I beg to differ with this article. The Pats rookie corner recognized a pass play at the goal line and raced to get the interception that won the game, because he had practiced going against that play due to superior coaching. Not because he was a great or experienced player. Coaching is vital, especially in football where 11 players have to know their assignments and be trained to execute them. Case in point, the return team player on the Packers who lost the game for his team to the Seahawks by not executing his assignment and instead interfered with his teammate ability to catch the ball and end that game. This is entirely due to poor coaching and his players blowing their assignments was the hallmark of that special teams coach for years.

    • Nerd

      Agreed, although with a team like the Packers that has had so much success with these UDFAs, (Slowik being an exception, of course) I think the coaching staff has extra significance.

    • TedTomsin

      Excellent points Mark!!
      Ted

  • Taryn Miller

    Does Coaching really matter?

    Let’s get a true,if possible, opinion of those players and those who boasted the same thinking,freely or coerced somewhat, during the CBA holdout,walkout,strike or whatever fits one’s taste and revisit the success, progress they made while holding their own practice camps…you know those meetings where Drew Brees etc were playing catch at some resort,backyard or HS field after those attended had their passage paid to entice their participation and with a little media coverage to get face time.It was then and would be again now nothing more than a joke.

    I think coaching means even more than ever before and the extra burdens place on them other than the real field time(game or practice) has made it even more difficult for teams to find one who can juggle all that needs juggled with success and unlike the many we see yearly being fired because of it and not being allowed to simply coach football…. a still mandatory aspect for any player. 🙂

  • I think coaching is very important in the NFL. The author cites few examples in support of his opposite premise. Bostick was coached correctly on the ST play in question, but he was not coachable. He good have been the #1 TE but he had bad habits, i.e., was uncoachable. That’s why he didn’t start & why he is gone. Rodgers might have more freedom with playcalling, but the coaches will have put in the game plan earlier in the week, after the coaches have studied the opponent team’s tendencies and identified mismatches. Football is all about exploiting mismatches and hiding your own.

    Certainly the position coaches still teach. Whitt is obviously doing a great job with CBs, and he has two fine athletes in Rollins and Goodson to mold. The offensive line coaches seem to be doing very well, too. I’ve wondered about GB’s safety coach, but that’s all I can do as a fan. Now Darren Perry has some talent to work with in Clinton-Dix, Hyde, and possibly Randall, so we will see. It is always hard to know whether an outcome is due to the ability of the teacher/mentor or to the aptitude and attitude of the student, or some combination thereof. GB is a draft and develop team. There is no doubt in my mind that GB does a lot of developing of young players. Now if a LB coach would just teach Perry some pass rushing moves to go with his bull rush, his career could easily take off. Hundley needs coaching. And the list goes on.

    • dobber

      I think your first line is right on the money: it depends on the league. In the NFL, coaching is very important. Talent is, of course, also very important. But the talent needs to match the system, and football is driven by systems. I would argue that coaching is far less important in the NBA. I think there, it’s more a matter of buy-in and effort.

      • I agree totally, except I was thinking baseball not basketball! LOL IDK really. Jason Kidd seems to have done wonders even w/o Parker. Baseball: manager is there to get fired. Seems obvious that you can be an absolutely terrible 3rd base coach and stay employed in Milwaukee. Buy-in and effort: Hell yes. Tim Thomas never bought in to what the Bucks wanted him to do, and with 100% guaranteed contracts, we watched him heave 3 pointers, and we watched a bunch of guys disdain defense. It is why I don’t watch the NBA much anymore.

    • TedTomsin

      Bostick was a dumb ass. He never graduated college and I have my doubts he has reading comprehension skills above the 6th grade level. All coaches just like teachers are not created equal. Slocum was a bad coach and a bad teacher. I have no doubt because his players constantly made the same mistakes over and over again so he was incapable of teaching them to where they could understand. Glad both of them are history!!
      Ted

      • dobber

        “He never graduated college and I have my doubts he has reading comprehension skills above the 6th grade level. ”

        I think you’ve probably described far more of the early-entrants into the draft over the last 25 years than we would care to know…

        • TedTomsin

          Yes dobber, you are probably right but for someone who was unusually fast for a tight end he was pretty slow upstairs. More than the normal non graduate in my opinion. This guy could not get in a game until the final one.

          Apparently his learning finally kicked in just in the nick of time and Slocum finally passed him and deemed him mentally fit and assignment sure to handle crucial onside kick attempts. What he didn’t know was Bostick cheated off of Brad Jones who cheated off of A.J. Hawk. lol
          Ted

  • montana83

    1958:
    Packers 1-10-1 with Ray Maclean as coach and players including;
    Jerry Kramer
    Jim Taylor
    Ray Nitschke
    Jim Currie
    Bart Starr
    Paul Hornung
    Forrest Gregg
    Max McGee
    Jim Ringo
    Dave Hanner
    you get the idea, then Lombardi is hired – same roster
    1959 7-5 with Vince Lombardi
    1960 8-4 loses NFL Championship on last play of game
    1961-1967 (5) NFL Championships
    Does coaching really matter? You tell me.

    • Ed Schoenfeld

      The really hilarious thing is that what Lombardi brought to the team was A) psychological motivation (granted with a far different style than today’s Head coach/babysitters) and B) pre-game preparation — teaching (today they call it installing) the offense and defense and then adapting it to each week’s opponent.

      Per his players, on game day Lombardi was “the most useless individual on the sideline.”

      The more we think things have changed, the more they have actually stayed the same.

      • Taryn Miller

        Per his players, on game day Lombardi was “the most useless individual on the sideline.”

        Perhaps one of the purest recognitions a HC could achieve…having to do nothing but watch his players execute what was coached…winning does add a nice touch of icing on the cake.

        • Tundraboy

          And for us too bad the coaches under MM and in turn the players did not execute what they learned.

  • NemoOutis

    This year, the Packers’ season, whether successful or not, will hinge largely upon the coaching of our very good CB coach, Joe Whitt. Was it a mistake for TT to let 2 experienced CBs leave the team during free agency? The answer to that question will largely depend upon whether Coach Whitt can fill those losses with rookies or players remaining from last year. That’s how important coaching is.

    • TedTomsin

      Please..

      • NemoOutis

        You’re so polite. Yes, you can go to your room.

    • TedTomsin

      We lost a guy who hardly played and couldn’t crack the starting lineup in 4 years we also lost a guy who’s best season was in 2010 and was quickly descending. Please tell me you have something more than this Nemo. The Packers entire season depends on it.
      Ted

      • NemoOutis

        Last year’s play of our CBs was credited Bob McGinn of the Journal-Sentinel as the reason for improvement in the defense. See his excellent article, of 1/3/15, “Packers Defense Transformed by Cornerbacks’
        Coverage.” http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/packers-defense-transformed-by-cornerbacks-coverage-b99418753z1-287430621.html
        Jessup was right. “You can’t handle the truth.” Joe Whitt will have to save TT’s bacon this year.

        • TedTomsin

          Bob McGinn was also the idiot that said the Packers would be fine with Seneca Wallace as their backup.
          Ted

          • NemoOutis

            And what “idiot,” I’m using your word, signed him to a contract? Oh, yea, the guy who once walked on water but doesn’t anymore. Yes, that “idiot.”

            • TedTomsin

              Wallace was one hell of a signing by TT. The best out there. The problem is your hero worshipping writer Bobby McGinn predicted they were fine at backup and Wallace got hurt in the first quarter. McGinn (Nemo’s hero) looked like a fool and was in hiding for at least a month after what he wrote. lol
              Ted

              • NemoOutis

                “One hell of a signing . . .” weren’t those the words you used about the signing of Brian Brohm? Yea, to refresh your memory, the guy you believe your “genius” signed, knowing that he’d be a bust, thinking that somehow this would deter Favre from rejoining the Pack. Too much Kool Aid, my friend, way too much. But we digress from the main point of this post and that is the reality that it will take several years for our rookie CBs to be just the equivalent in knowledge and skill to the 2 we lost in free agency. They may be very good eventually and, at least in the case of Rollins IMO, be better, but rookies will make rookie mistakes (e.g., Clinton-Dix on Seattle’s 2 pt. conversion), and the success of this coming season largely depends upon our good secondary coaches. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t believe either of us want the offense to have to average 50 pts. a games just to go 8-8.

      • Oppy

        Tramon Williams ended his 2014 campaign with a blown coverage that wrapped up our season and sent us packing, however, he had a pretty phenomenal season otherwise, played extremely good football.

        No, he didn’t have the pick total like he had in 2010 which I agree was clearly his pinnacle season.. however, his shoulder was 100% for the first time since he injured it and he played pretty much lights out throughout the season.

        I believe Tramon is a victim of a year too early rather than a year too late, but I don’t think it is accurate to say he was descending quickly.

        • NemoOutis

          Good point, Oppy. Also, I believe he didn’t have any safety help on that play.

          • Oppy

            Nemo, exactly. Tramon gave up inside leverage to the WR, making a throw to the inside of the field an open corridor for the QB. He’s got to take away the inside and turn the receiver to the sideline, making the QB throw over the coverage- giving the DB the opportunity to make the stop. Considering the pre snap alignment, it doesn’t look like there was supposed to be a safety over the top- Williams just had a mental lapse at the worst possible time, and Wilson took advantage for the easy throw.

        • TedTomsin

          Descending quickly sounds better than just descending. Either way we all agree including Captain Nemo that I am right and he was descending at minimum. Randall and Rollins are already an upgrade and cost less.

          Looking at it another way. If Randall and Rollins were in one of those old Miller Lite commercials you couldn’t go wrong. One would be “less costly” and the other would be “plays great”. I wish they’d bring those back using the latest retired stars including old no. 4.
          Ted

          • Oppy

            “less costly” “plays great” is the funniest throw back campaign possible, that’s hilarious!

            As far as making claims that Randall and Rollins are both upgrades over a fairly accomplished Tramon Williams before either one has even hit their first pro training camp, well, that’s just you’re MO for building debate, as we both know, but at least it’s runaway optimism and not the inverse, so I’ll take it.

            For the record, I’m pretty optimistic about this Rollins kid. Just looks like he has that certain knack, and he’s so raw, the room for potential improvement is large. Randall will probably be the better pick short term, but Rollins has a small chance to come out of nowhere and be a force in a few years.
            might win the long term.

            • TedTomsin

              I agree on Rollins Oppy. What I like best about Rollins not to mention the fact he’s less costly and plays great is the fact he’s extremely intelligent. I haven’t been this excited about two dbs since Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas. We already know Randall and Rollins won’t be those guys because TT drafted them, not Mike Sherman.
              Ted

  • Since ’61

    Coaching definitely matters. Due to the limitations on practices in place due to the latest CBA coaching is increasingly becoming a teaching role versus hands on coaching. More time is spent studying techniques via film versus on the field hands on practice and repetition. We have seen the effect this has had on tackling, blocking and timing plays. While I realize the limited practices protect the players bodies there is no substitute for practicing and playing live against other professionals. With the starters getting most of the practice reps the reserve players need to rely more and more on film study and watching the starters versus receiving one on one coaching from there respective position coaches. Coaches matter, but players talent and their ability to learn their roles are key factors as well. Thanks, Since ’61

    • John Denver’s Gavel

      Pat Kirwan brought up this same point in “Take Your Eye Off the Ball.” He did a workshop in Green Bay once where he scolded the coaches for not knowing how their players learn. He claims players learn best by one of 3 coaching methods; auditory, visual and tactile. His point is essentially that a player who falls asleep in film may have problems learning visually, he may need the practice reps to understand a concept. The new CBA doesn’t tailor to the tactile learner because of cuts in practice time.

      I asked them, “You’re the communicator of the information, and you don’t know how your guys learn? How can you possibly expect them to process what you’re telling them?” -PK

      • TedTomsin

        Well that is some nice info you brought up JD’sGavel. If this is the case than Green Bay needs to look into this in more depth if they haven’t been doing so already. I have no doubt people learn things in different ways. Trying to find the best way to teach them on an individual basis is crucial to a teams success as witnessed by the massive effup that happened with Slocum and Bostick that cost us the super bowl.

        I know Sam Shields had some major learning disabilities when he first arrived but the coaching staff or at least Whitt I believe worked with him in a totally different way to where he could understand the plays and it paid off in a super bowl trophy with Sam being a huge reason why we got there.

        I would like to believe they are working on this with the coaching staff but again not all coaches no matter what you tell them are good teachers. I have an inkling Slocum was one of them.
        Ted

        • John Denver’s Gavel

          He doesn’t say when he told the GB coaching staff this information. He does bring up the 2009 SB in the book so it had to be 2009 or before. It may have been McCarthy’s staff.

          I def saw Sam Shields pulled aside by Whitt during a game in the 2010 season, Whitt was “going through the motions with him.” Tactile learner? Maybe. Good observation, TT.

          • I don’t follow “so it had to be 2009 or before.” The book was published on 8/5/2010, but there were subsequent editions. From what I can tell, Kirwan might have held the workshop for GB in the ’80, ’90s or anytime in the last 15 years. His biography indicates he was with the Jets’ FO until 1997, so probably the workshop was held after 1997 and before 2010.

            I do agree with your point. I know I learn best from reading.

      • Oppy

        John Denver’s Gavel, it would be interesting to know which regime was in place when Kirkwan dispensed this knowledge.

        One of the hallmarks of Mike McCarthy’s program under Ted Thompson is that the best teachers make the best coaches. This is why McCarthy doesn’t flinch a bit when shuffling his coaching staff around to accommodate a new addition to the staff. If Edgar Bennet, for example, is an excellent teacher, it does not matter what role he is in, so long as he understands the material, and the techniques, if he is a great facilitator, it will translate and results will follow.

        It’s the mantra for this coaching staff- great coaches are great teachers.

  • marpag

    It seems abundantly clear that people who think coaching doesn’t matter have never actually stopped to think about what it would be like not to have a coach.

    Just put 60 guys on a practice field. It’ll be OK. They’ll get plenty of good work in. You know how they love the drills. And they won’t have any trouble at all figuring out who the starters are.

    Game plan? We don’t need no stinkin’ game plan. Just go out there and play “linebacker-ish.” You’re a highly trained athlete, dammit.

    Sure, Letroy, go ahead and play corner. You’ll be great out there. Just ask the team psychologist. He’ll tell you.

    • TedTomsin

      Agreed. Look at the city of Baltimore with no “coach” in charge. Absolute chaos and out of control.
      Ted

  • croatpackfan

    Coaching is of utmost important… If you will not allow coach to coach you, than life will take the role. And, I think all of us knows that, when life starts to coach, you very quickly learn that life is very harsh & severe coach. Which produce a lot of pain and so on… I will always chose any good coach over life for coaching…

  • Dan Stodola

    In this whole article it doesn’t even mention what HC, managers really are. They are Leaders, they set the direction and then get the players to buy in, to that direction and give the players the ability to play at their best.
    Sure McCarthy has the equalizer in Rodgers, but Rodgers may not become Rodgers w/o McCarthy. He has groomed him and shaped the player Rodgers became, so he could at this point step back and allow Rodgers to take more and more on his plate every year. McCarthy challenged Rodgers, he gave him the direction Rodgers needed early in his career, so now he doesn’t need that much attention.
    Are coaches important? Do they matter? Damn right they do. Any successful coach is a leader and usually a good teacher. They bring the best out of players.
    The article doesn’t even discusss what HC and managers are above and before everything else… Leaders.

  • Oppy

    If you are going to write an article that denounces the importance of what is considered a lynchpin position for success (in this case, coaching), perhaps it is best to start with learning exactly what it is that coaches do at the pro level.

    The idea that 63 men can operate efficiently and at peak level without direction in any profession much less one as competitive and varied as professional football, indicates a grave lack of understanding the role and job duties of the various coaching roles.

    Perhaps a good place to start is reaching out to and interviewing as many coaches as will grant you access. Ask them for a job description. What do they do, in detail. How much time do they put into those job duties. What happens, specifically, if they fail to get those things done appropriately.

    Start with High School coaches. Find small school collegiate coaches. If you can weasel your way into a Div 1 big program coach, or a professional coach, that would be great.

    It seems to me as though you wrote this article denouncing the importance of a job without a solid understanding what the job truly entails. In one broad stroke, you’ve (perhaps unwittingly) declared that strategy, discipline, training/drilling, timing, and unity don’t really matter.

  • Ferrari Driver

    It’s refreshingly entertaining to hear some of us making earth shaking declarations as if we are in fact “junior” NFL General Managers. Even if we had access to the wealth of factual data on players, plus the information provided by the staff who make a living teaching and evaluating players, we would likely be overwhelmed and confused.

    Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy adding my two cents on occasion and reading other Monday morning QB inputs.

    Keep up the banter!