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.——————
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