The culture of Coaching in the wake of scandal

Scandals at Penn State University and the University of Syracuse in the ranks of college coaching have caused many of us to ask, “What the hell is going on here?”  The level of deceit and mistrust, along with the alleged crimes themselves, goes beyond recruiting violations that normally bring the consternation of governing bodies, the media, alumni and fans.  Problems in ethics have existed and persisted in the professional coaching ranks as well.  Certainly inappropriate behavior surrounding the rules of the NCAA has brought down many a “good coach” over the years, but these recent events go way beyond payoffs and visitation violations.

Consider the following definitions;

  • Coach- a trainer of sports players and athletes
    • WikipediaIn sports, a coach or manager is an individual involved in the direction, instruction and training of the operations of a sports team or of individual sportspeople. This type of coach gets involved in all the aspects of the sport, including physical and mental player development. Sports coaches train their athletes to become better at the physical components of the game. The coach is assumed to know more about the sport, and have more previous experience and knowledge. The coach’s job is to transfer as much of this knowledge and experience to the players to develop the most skilled athletes.
  • Emotion- agitation or disturbance caused by strong feelings
  • CEO- the highest-ranking executive officer within a company or corporation, who has responsibility for overall management of its day-to-day affairs under the supervision of a board of directors
    • WikipediaTypically, the CEO has responsibilities as a communicator, decision maker, leader, and manager. The communicator role can involve the press and the rest of the outside world, as well as the organization’s management and employees; the decision-making role involves high-level decisions about policy and strategy. As a leader, the CEO advises the board of directors, motivates employees, and drives change within the organization. As a manager, the CEO presides over the organization’s day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year operations.

The emotional roller coaster

The coaching profession may be one of the most emotional occupations out there (I know, I’ve been one).  The highs of winning and the lows of losing swing the gambit of reaction, both inwardly and outwardly.  The modern sports coach is faced with a myriad of pressures, self inflicted and externally driven.  Many coaches are not only asked to, but also seek out the responsibility of Chief Executive Officer (more or less) of the organization.  Usually this involves final say over any and everything that effects the sports program;  hiring assistant coaches, recruiting or signing players, travel schedules, media interaction, player discipline, game planning, practice & classroom preparation.  The overriding authority goes on and on.

Pressure of competitive success and the 24/7 coverage of sports on TV, radio and the internet has led to an industry where each decision and every detail is dissected as a sport itself.  Broad based interest has driven the cost for its content through the roof, and both college and professional sports have financially benefitted as a result.

Climbing the ladder

The insatiable desire to be on top and in the spotlight has obsessed Pro Owners, College Athletic Directors, and University Presidents to pay top dollar for the top coaches.  These men understand the lucrative opportunity and yet the volatility of instability as well.  As a result, they have driven the head coaching market to levels never dreamed of.  Sports stars and coaches are on par with movie stars and the music industry.  Like wolves bringing down their first kill, once you taste blood you can never go back.  Young coaches will do just about anything to get to the top and stay there.

Most coaches have never experienced life outside the sport.  Many started as players themselves and moved on from years of college into a G.A. (graduate assistant) position, entry level assistant or up to the professional ranks.  There is no “degree” in football.  It’s a vocation learned on the job and or passed down from previous generations of coaches.  Most coaching development centers around the X’s and O’s of player execution, and leadership is learned, displayed, and absorbed (positively and negatively) along the way.

Maintaining the status quo

The money, prestige, power, influence and exposure that come with coaching can quickly warp reality.  Many coaches develop a false sense of position from the pedestal the surrounding staff and public put them on.  This tends to lead to an intense desire to maintain the status quo and with it, built in excuses for actions taken to do so.  Coaches protect themselves from the media, owners, fans and critics by using FOOTBALL to their advantage (“you don’t understand, or know, or think you know”).

The “CEO Coach” becomes bigger than the program and or the mission of the organization or institution he serves.  This begins to rationalize less than acceptable behavior towards people and issues.  The end begins to justify the means, all in the name of winning, and all in the name of keeping power.  Ask yourself this of a questionable coach, “What would they be doing and would they be worth it in the real world?”

A major source of the problem is the very people hiring the coaches.  These are usually “non-football” types that surrender their marquee program or billion dollar business over to a “football man” because after all, “he knows best”.  These individuals, committees, or boards are focused first and foremost on football, winning football.  They’ll believe what they hear and pay what they have to, to get who they want.


Leadership vs Coaching Knowledge

There’s a fine line and a fine mix between the need for the two; leadership and football knowledge.  I liken it to the Air Force, highly skilled officers that start their careers around flying.  Then they’re moved out of the cockpit and nurtured along through various levels of responsibility and leadership until they’ve acquired the necessary background and experience to run the whole show (Generals).

It may be time to reassess what the role of a coach is to a university or professional organization.  Change the criteria or change the significance.  Either way, too much has been given to a position where too few have been properly prepared for the responsibility to represent the entirety of an institution or organization .

In the past it cost money, it’s costing a lot more than that now.

You may also want to read Searching for a head coach? – ” Don’t buy the binder!”

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