What are the requirements that make for a successful professional sports coach? Apparently being a star ex-player (emphasis on Star) is not one. Especially in Football. The facts tell the story. Of all of today's NFL's coaches, Mike Singelary is/was its only super-star player. Jack Del Rio and Ken Whisenhaut played in the NFL but could hardly be called stars. Sean Payton played sparsely.
The most successful NFL coaches: Shanahan, Belichick, McCarthy, Turner, Reid, Tomlin, Smith, Coughlin, not only didn't play in the NFL, they never played for any major university. Belichick was the captain of his college Lacrosse team. Of the ten greatest coaches in NFL history, not one ever reached anything close to stardom as a player. Of all of them, Bud Grant was probably the best athlete having played both professional basketball for the Minniapolis Lakers and football as an adequate wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. George Halas played baseball for the Yankees. Lombardi learned about football as an assistant coach at Westpoint. Bill Walsh, my favorite coach of all time, played football at San Mateo Junior College and San Jose State, neither school known for its football programs. Marv Levy hired Walsh as an assistant at the University of California, Berkeley. Levy, a darn good pro coach, earned his BA in English Literature from Coe College - not known as a college football powerhouse - and held a Masters Degree in English History from Harvard University.
Perhaps understanding history is a requirement. Speaking of history, what is it historians say? If you don't study history, you are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. That's not exactly right. In the case of NFL football, none of the NFL owners ever hired a coach who was a great NFL player, let alone a Hall of Famer - except the 49ers.
In the future there might very well be a great NFL ex-player who becomes a successful pro coach as there have been in professional basketball. But even in the NBA there aren't many. Lenny Wilkins, Tommy Heinsohn, Billy Cuningham, KC Jones and Bill Russell. (Russell may not count since a lot of his winning stats were achieved while he was coaching himself.) Of the five above mentioned players that became coaches, only Lenny Wilkins proved his skill over an extended period of time. However, unlike the NFL, many NBA coaches had long careers as pro players, but they were not superstars. I'd be willing to bet that most of the NBA superstars could not succeed as coaches. Just imagine Charles Barkely trying to coach anyone. Magic gave it a shot and it didn't work out.
The great managers in baseball, on the other hand, have mostly been ex-players of some notoriety, but not necessarily Hall of Famers. I wonder if coaching skills in baseball are honed during all the time baseball players have to think about the game in between pitches or while waiting those interminable hours before they get to bat?
Hockey is a Canadian sport, so I'll let someone from up north tell me whether NHL superstars make great pro hockey coaches or not, but I do know that Al Arbour was a terrific player, while the all-time greatest NHL coach, Scotty Bowman played only briefly in the minor leagues. Even the superlative NHL Hall of Famer, Wayne Gretsky, didn't fare well as a coach.
The moral of this story, if there is one, is that if you're an owner in the NFL (or NBA) in search of a coach it is best to hire a thinking man like Bill Walsh, Marv Levy, or a Bill Belichek rather than a super star ex-player, especially a fiery, confrontational, disorganized, petulant Hall of Fame linebacker.
I found this great football poem years ago.
Necessity is the Mother of the "Bullet" by Patrick Worth Gray
Our quarterback kept throwing higher
And higher. Finally, the ball
Would just squirt straight up
Thirty yards and straight back
Down into the arms
Of the other team's astonished center.
It was Banana City for Coach Boyle-
"Gray," he said, "Straighten
Rodriquez out." I couldn't speak
Spanish; Rodriquez couldn't speak
English. We drank beer
Until we woke up walleyes
In a recruiting station, signing
The papers. Six months later,
On the slopes of Nui Ba Dinh,
Rodriquez saw a hand-grenade
Rolling down toward our hole.
He pitched that thing forty yards
Right into the arms of an eternally
Astonished Viet Cong. After
The echoes died, I said,
"Rodriguez, why the hell didn't you do that
Back at good old P.S.U.?"
"Ah, there," he said, "There, I didn't have to."
What my musings are all about...
Blogging might well be the 21st century's form of journaling. As a writing teacher, I have always advised my students to keep a daily journal as a way of organizing their thoughts for future writing projects, a discipline I have unfortunately never consistently practiced myself. By blogging, I might finally be able to follow my own good advice.
The difference between journaling and blogging is that the blogger opens his or her writing to the public, something journal- writers are usually reluctant to do. I am not so reticent.
The trick for me will be to avoid cluttering the internet with more blather, something none of us need more of. If I stick to subjects I know: sports and literature, I believe I can avoid that pitfall. I can't promise that I'll not stray from time to time to comment on ancillary subjects, but I will make every attempt to be interesting and perhaps even insightful.