When should you fire a coach? 

This was printed on our Facebook page on November 25th, 2018.
North Carolina hired Fedora when they were entering a period of tremendous self-inflicted difficulty: probation and sanctions that only became more and more apparent after he took the job in 2012.
But then some of the problems in the program have as much to do with him as anyone, and a pair of 3-9 seasons at the bottom of the conference when they have had more success historically are understandably uncomfortable for everyone. 
Watching the Tar Heels play this year was a challenge, and deciding how much of the blame for that goes on the coach and how much on the circumstances surrounding him is always a tough evaluation.
If you’ve clicked on the article, you’ve probably also found a link to the piece also out today, saying that Southern California has chosen to KEEP their coach, Clay Helton, who went 5-7 at a school that doesn’t accept 5-7. Their thinking, however, was couched in the difficulties he faced this year: His starting quarterback and leading receiver were both true freshmen, and especially early in the year against a difficult schedule that included Texas, it showed. They did beat Washington State, although they lost to a UCLA team that they really shouldn’t have lost to this season. The admin made an interesting comparison today, noting that the Notre Dame team they played last night: not long ago, THEY were 4-8, but they stayed on course with their coach, and are now 12-0 and heading for the CFP. 
Should Charlotte have let their head coach go?  Brad Lambert had overseen the 49ers throughout their entire existence, counting two years building up to the FBS level and four, I think, in Conference USA. Starting from scratch, he’s built them up to where they upset FAU yesterday in his final game, giving them a 5-7 record, .500 in conference play for the first time, and frankly look like a team on the rise. Yet the admin felt that they needed someone else to take them higher than that. That’s possible. I’m not sure how fair it is, but it’s possible that they saw a ceiling in his coaching that said this was the best they could get with him, AND (here’s the part many ignore) there would be a coach out there for hire who could do significantly BETTER with what Charlotte has to offer him to work with. 
THERE is the problem – the only reason Texas A&M felt they could afford to fire Kevin Sumlin was that they knew they could get Jimbo Fisher to come take over. Of course, if there’s no one available who’s any better than who you have now, you shouldn’t fire that coach. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? But sometimes, we feel the need to change just for change’s sake. Should Kansas have let David Beatty go? I don’t think so – the Jayhawks just had the most promising season they’ve had in years. Admittedly, it’s 3-9, and they didn’t win more than once in conference. But still, when they felt the need to fire him BEFORE the Kansas/K-State game because they were afraid that he’d WIN that game and make it more difficult to fire him, you know there’s a problem. 

 

 

Most of you will never have a job situation like that, where people outside your little circle know or care about how well you do your job.

I have.

I was a “coach” for 30 years before I spent the last five years running the alternative school in this district. The team I coached was the marching/pep/concert band program, in order of public perception of importance, and my/our level of performance was quite often a subject of community interest and discussion. In three of the four districts I taught in (all for 6-8 years apiece, it turned out), our work was exemplary and I had the full support of every patron and decision maker in the community. 
In the one (frankly) dysfunctional school district I worked in, there were good ol’boy issues and loyalties which made for some difficult times for me and my family; in fact, I ended up moving to my current community when an administrator above me used his pull with the school board to try to force me out in favor of a relative who needed a job like mine. Without going into detail, it was ugly, and when this position was made known to me, I took it and rescued my family from the dysfunction. But I know what turmoil being a coach who serves at the whim of the administration – translation, the whim of the patronage of the school – is like. Because my teaching record was spotless, this administrator couldn’t take my job away, but because the coaching contracts weren’t guaranteed in any way, he managed to take away the coaching part of my job without removing me from my classroom – which would have been interesting! Apparently I was to teach the band during the day, but this other person would take them to performances. Not sure how that was supposed to work, except to force me out of the position out of pride. Since I ended up leaving, I suppose it worked – except that God made the karma come back around (that administrator was outed the very next year for similar shenanigans, and the relative left within two years himself).
In the decade-plus since I left there, the band has never been more than half the size it was when I was there. It’s easy to say the moral is something along the lines of “be careful what you wish for”, but I’m too close to the situation to say that – after all, I also know that the program in Kuna High, where I taught for seven years in the 1990s, now has a director who has done phenomenal things with that band program far beyond anything I ever did (although they did go through three or four directors after I left who couldn’t replicate even the moderate success I had there). The young man who replaced me here when my health forced me into retirement has had his struggles but is now beginning to build a program there again. 

So, back to the original topic. When do you get rid of a coach, a director, a pastor, a leader? Here’s my advice:

First of all, when the leader is violating the standards of the program – criminally, morally, ethically, etc. – then that leader MUST be replaced ASAP. At that point, his/her competence or even excellence doesn’t matter. You need to replace that person immediately. Don’t compromise on the important stuff.
After that, you have to look at the trend line of your program: what does the next couple of years look like with this leader? Was this a down year (think Clay Helton with a freshman QB) because of injuries, as the GWS Giants have struggled with these
last couple of years? That’s why nobody has asked for Leon Cameron’s head – the fact that he’s kept them together at all is commendable! How has the program fared given the circumstances of the program overall? (Like Kansas football – if they’ve shown historically that winning more than three games a year is above average, you need to adjust your thinking to that for now.) My strength was to build band programs that had collapsed into healthy band programs that helped students grow into strong human beings. One principal suggested to me that if I could get the high school band to play the anthem and the fight song correctly at home football games, the audience would be thrilled! On the other hand, when I left there seven years later, that wouldn’t have served as an acceptable minimum standard!
Next, you need to consider what the program would look like if you changed leaders at this point in time. Kuna wasn’t used to having a strong program because as a desert school somewhat outside the Boise metro, it was always either the point of entry for new directors or the last point of employment for struggling instructors on the way out. (When I arrived in 1992, I was the 22nd director in 55 years. That’s insane.) They were NOT in a position to be too picky about who they hired, frankly, and they were thrilled to have someone of even my still-humble qualifications take the job. On the other hand, as Boise has grown, and Kuna has grown, it’s not a school within the greater Boise/Nampa metro area, and can command salaries and support to rival the rest of the region. So they can expect to get the best that Idaho has to offer when they open up their coaching and director positions. 
Finally, what about the PEOPLE involved? Speaking on behalf of the Larry Fedoras of the world, we understand that this is a business, and that we keep our positions at the whim of our employers, and that means we’re expected to tangibly produce. Multiple nine-loss seasons puts you at risk, regardless of circumstances.
But what about a situation like the U of Minnesota faced a few years ago? They had a good coach, Jerry Kill, running the program, and with a football program that hadn’t won like that in quite a while, they wanted to keep him for the long run. And then – he started having seizures. Bad ones. Seizures that made him almost unable to function as a coach. Now, he can’t do his job, at least not well enough, but you wouldn’t have a heart if you fired him over this (plus it would probably be illegal). It’s not that different from my situation when I was getting too sick to do my job. Thankfully for them, I was willing to step down when I felt I couldn’t do my job to the standards I demanded of myself; thankfully for me, I worked for a district that valued me as a person and teacher enough to work with me and move me to a position that was not only more suited for my diminishing strength but also the value they placed on me as a teacher and as someone who could develop a program. I ran the alternative school for five years before I had to retire in May,
How do you treat the people who work with you? Yes, you have the right to dismiss your leaders when they aren’t doing the job well enough. But have some common sense. Do what’s best for everyone involved – it’s why so many college football coaches are being fired NOW, so that not only can they start finding a replacement, but it gives the fired coach time to adjust to that dismissal as well, either in searching out a new business or dealing with the issues involved in moving a family – coaches’ families have it rough, considering how often they have to move around. 
Treat everyone with respect. The Golden Rule is Biblical – how would YOU want to be treated? That’s how you must treat everyone around you. Be polite, complimentary in public, and save your criticism for private. Think of the people underneath that leader: quite often, some of them have developed relationships with that person that go beyond the simple requirements of the position. It was harder on several students in each program I left than it was on me – I had become a sounding board and a support person of strength for the young men and women in the programs I taught and ran. When you hear athletes defend their coaches so vehemently, realize some of them are about to lose their father figure, especially if they had no father growing up. It makes any transition hard. 

No matter what, just don’t forget that you’re dealing with PEOPLE. God wants us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and EVERYONE is our neighbor. 

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