Quit Blaming the Coach

Have you ever been a scapegoat?  The default or the “chosen” receptacle of error and blame whenever outcomes do not meet expectations?  Whenever an authoritative entity gets wind of something foul afoot, whose name is at the top of the Have A Word With list?  If it ever has been you in this situation in an interpersonal, professional, or legal context, do you accept it as an occupational hazard?  Or, do you find something philosophically incorrect with always being the one that has to justify, deflect, or just deal with it?


This entry was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend yesterday:

Friend: There are rumblings that Mark Richt is on the hot seat.
Me: Coach is the first to be on the hot seat, never the parents…unless it’s high school.  Coach is in the hot seat for not being able to “control” his players off the field…which is kind of dumb, but understandable.

Friend: Mark Richt was a saint to UGA fans for the longest time. this is his 10th season.
Me: and when players’ performance go towards the mean.

Friend: Well… the coach should recruit student-athletes, the coach is responsible for which kids he brings into his program.
Me: Right.
Friend: The coaches need to run a clean program.

Me: He at least needs to be accountable for signing off on who makes the cut.  That is on his head, but it’s not his fault if one player loses his mojo or one player keeps getting drunk & driving.  It’s his obligation to worry & to reprimand,  etc, but the player still makes his own choices.  Every player that screws up once off the field would have to be shadowed and the moment there could be trouble, someone from the athletic dept who’s “on call” would scamper in and “hey! let me take you home, okay?”  or “hey! she’s not worth it… she can’t stand straight and is about to throw up…you don’t want that.”

It’s no good for a player to feel like he’s not trusted.  To have made it to the final roster, as a starter or a backup, the coaching staff had to have seen potential for growth or talent and possessed solid morals and common courtesy.  New players  may not realize that anything they do and say will reflect on their team, their coaches, and their school too.  So if they don’t understand that or the concept of saving and losing face, they’re just going to give undue headaches to their coaching staff.  What a coach does or says doesn’t always reflect on his players, which is somewhat of a double-standard.  I’m not even sure an owner or athletic director’s bad decision-making skills unrelated to game-play would be inherited by his subordinates.  It would just be a damn shame and a betrayal.


To elaborate on that conversation, the higher you are on the power hierarchy, your mistakes are less likely to be shouldered by your colleagues or those you lead.  Your inability to succeed or make the right choice are your own.  On the other hand, the lower you are on the power hierarchy, the more likely your achievements, failures, and ill-advised behavior will be extended to those persons that teach, guide, or manage you.  Exceptions notwithstanding, this set-up is psychologically lopsided.

Victories in sports are collective endeavors.  It may be one guy that makes the game-winning play, but for him to have arrived at that moment to make that play, his teammates made significant contributions.  Losses aren’t necessarily a collective effort.  Sometimes it is one guy (cough, cough, kickers), especially in cases where the win was so-close-and-yet-so-far.  If you’re unwilling to fault the entire team or the coach because one player tripped or dropped the ball or didn’t get enough height on the kick, why should responsibility for lackluster performance diffuse to the coach in other scenarios?

Because, you have to spotlight someone.  It’s counter-intuitive that mediocrity could be as collective as excellence, right?  Je ne pense pas.

Mark Richt isn’t alone, though.  Butch Jones, Butch Davis, Brian Kelly, Frank Beamer, and Steve Sarkisian are also on a hot seat of some sort.

Going straight to the coach is a valid response when a team isn’t playing to its potential.  When it comes to off-field activities and displays of idiotic judgment, none of the athletic department should be dragged in unless necessary.

Would a coach ever say to his team, these words:
Over the next three or four years (depending on whether or not you choose to turn pro before getting your degree), your grades and what you do out there on that field will be at the top of your priorities.  If you have family problems or emergencies, we can work something out so that you don’t have to piss off your parents too many times.  Other friends, and girlfriends, however, will have to be put on the back-burner.   I am here to help make you the best football player you can be, so that we can all give glory to our school, to make something amazing together.  I’ll be your father, your mother, your spiritual adviser, your teacher, your brother, your uncle, and your therapist, but I will not be your doctor, your buddy, or your get-out-of-jail-free pass.  If something is troubling you and you have nobody else to talk to or turn to, come to me before you make a decision you could regret for not just the rest of your life, but also the rest of mine.

Pix creds: google image search

5 thoughts on “Quit Blaming the Coach

  1. Kev Moore

    I can certainly relate to ‘the scapegoat trap’ with regard to my own team, Derby County – in the English Soccer Championship. Our manager , Nigel Clough, has to try and turn around a side that has overspent and been mis-managed for many years, and all within the confines of tight budget restrictions from the American owners. There are those among the fan base who blame Clough directly for lack of progress, but I believe he’s doing an amazing job under the circumstances. My fear is that GSE (the owners) under fan pressure, may eventually be tempted to use Clough as the scapegoat, which in my view would be disastrous. 😦

  2. Philippe

    Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

    You would surely know that in all sports, the coach invariably gets his marching papers after a string of losses. In most cases, losses turn into wins when the new coach takes over because a new coach shakes things up and breaks bad habits.

    Since nothing is static, it is inevitable that a coach’s personality and practices will eventually become incompatible with the changes in the cultural environment which change how the particular sport is played and how its players think.

    That any coach is becoming older, thereby steadily widening the generation gap with his players, is reason in itself for him to depart after a few years.

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      You would surely know that in all sports, the coach invariably gets his marching papers after a string of losses.

      Like I said, it makes sense that the coach, himself or as representative of the entire coaching staff, is brought to the chopping block when what happens in the actual game isn’t impressing anyone. I don’t think it should be the default response, though. It’s too easy. “Oh, blame the coach” (after one is done blaming the one or two players that just had to get holding penalties called on them or that just had to drop the ball or fail to make that interception).

      You bring up a good point with the age of the coach vs. the average age of the players, particularly college players. There may be more benefits to having a coach that has been with a school for at least six years, though. To be the head coach and the constant during times of administrative upheaval is tremendous. Deans and athletic directors may come and go, but our head coach shall not fade.


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