Another View, Mine: February 2019

Is it the player(s) or the manager/coach?

“Player Power” has been a hotly-discussed topic in international soccer for some time, with Jose Mourinho at the center. The former Manchester United manager has long decried the rise of influence by players in the sport and (probably quite correctly) blames his current unemployed status on it.

In addition, the only interesting aspect coming from the latest turgid Super Bowl is the debate over whether Belichick could have succeeded without Brady and vice-versa.

In all things regarding sports coaching and management, I always begin with the greatest of all time, Dean Smith. “The Carolina Way” and “the system is the solution” are most often brought up when referring to the success of the Tar Heel basketball team under Coach Smith. One also hears the tiresome canard, “Dean Smith was the only person to hold Michael Jordan under 20 points a game.”

But was it that simple? True, Coach Smith strictly adhered to a code of conduct and principles of sport, but there was vision and innovation. Four Corners basketball of the early days—most notably with Phil Ford at the helm—was completely different from the almost Showtime game of Worthy, Perkins, et al.

He recruited players he thought would be best suited for his vision. The names of great players who were not offered scholarships to UNC because the coach felt the player was not suited for the UNC game could constitute a wing of the Hall of Fame. And that was best for all parties.

And no one to my knowledge was more concerned, caring and supportive of every one of his players—past and present —than Dean Smith. The goals and aspirations of all of them were vitally important to Coach Smith for all of his life.

So if “Player Power” refers to a system wherein the comfort, joy and satisfaction of the player(s) are more important than the will of the coach/manager, that, to me, seems about right.

Sport is about creativity and performance within the parameters of teamwork and tactics. If the players are not allowed to exhibit their ability and creativity because they feel constrained by the coach’s vision, the project cannot succeed. It seems to me that great coaching either promotes and plays athletes who share the coach’s vision, or the coach adapts to the talents and abilities of the players.

The ability and willingness to adapt and innovate seems, to me, to be the vital component to success.

Coach Smith embodied that. That was Phil Jackson’s special talent with the Bulls and the Lakers. Pep Guardiola has brought that to each of the teams he managed. Maurizio Sarri is attempting that at Chelsea by slowly but surely bringing in players who share his philosophy. It is doubtful that he will be given the time to complete that plan and his seeming inability to adapt to the present situation—as opposed to Guardiola, Jackson and Coach Smith—will likely have him be joining Mourinho at the end of the season.

So is it Belichick or Brady? From the broad grin Brady seems to always display, it certainly appears to me that he is all in with Belichick’s plan. And the coach has never wavered in his support of Brady. Seems like they found each other.

In the same vein, it will undoubtedly be interesting to see what happens to Jimmie Johnson this coming NASCAR season  without Chad Knaus. The most successful driver/crew chief team in NASCAR history will be spending time apart with season. While we are all privy to their radio bickering during races, no one can argue with the results. They may not have always been on the same page, but they shared a lot of victory lane podiums.

Personal trainer Bethany is my taskmaster, but we appear to be sharing the same vision. Hope it’s not a mirage. The goal is 260 by spring. The reality: Fat Boy Index 289.