Anthrocide is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Archive for February, 2009

On Coaches…

The position of head coach (“manager” in baseball) for a sports team is a peculiar one. No matter how good the coach, the team must have talented players but a coach can make a significant difference. It has been said that a great manager in baseball will maybe win a half-dozen games for a team over a 162 game schedule and a bad one lose about that many. However, I think a truly incompetent manager can have a greater negative impact than that because the aura of losing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nevertheless, the impact of the head guy in baseball is not as significant as it may be in the other sports, specifically football where the right or wrong approach to the game and/or playbook can make a team of just above-average players either champions or underachieving losers. In general, though, for the four major sports, coaches are generally responsible for:

    A. Team Chemistry. The coach must create team cohesiveness that enables a group of individuals to work together as a unit. This is a bit less significant in baseball since there is frequently only one player from the team on offense involved at one time. But in sports like basketball and hockey, team chemistry is essential.

    B. Work and Discipline. The coach must establish when and how much the team will practice, make sure the players maintain conditioning and their focus, and handle problems with and among the players. He establishes how stringent or lax the rules are and whether or not star players get special treatment. He may also be a teacher, although this is less true in the Pro’s.

    C. Philosophy. Will this team focus primarily on offense or defense? Will it look for the quick strike, run-and-gun, or use a patient, opportunistic approach. How much are the players expected to decide on their own and how much will the coach control from the bench?

    D. Motivation. Players need someone in charge who can build a fire under them, help them recharge their batteries over a long season, and calm them down when things are too tense. While locker-room leadership from players is important, this falls primarily to the coach.

    E. Strategy. In football and basketball these are the plays the team has in its playbook on offense and the defensive coverages that they plan to use. In hockey there is a basic method of play the coach establishes and there may be nuances based on the opponent’s personnel and mode of play. In baseball it would involve how they plan to pitch to each opposing player, what each batter can expect from the opponent’s pitcher, and the positioning of fielders. In all cases it involves who starts and who gets how much playing time.

    F. Tactics or “Game Management.” Finally, the coach determines what happens while the game unfolds. Substitutions, what play to call or pitch to throw, time management, and what adjustments to make to offset what the opposition is doing are all parts of game tactics.

Having established these, let me assess the coaches of my favorite teams. They are:

MLB – SF Giants, Bruce Bochy
NCAA Basketball – MIZZOU Tigers, Mike Anderson
NCAA Football – MIZZOU Tigers, Gary Pinkel
NFL – SF 49ers, Mike Singletary
NHL – San Jose Sharks, Todd McLellan
And I just can’t generate much of a rooting interest in the NBA.

Below, these teams’ coaches are ranked in order of quality–in my view anyway.

1. Todd McLellan, Sharks, hockey

  • Team Chemistry – This team truly clicks on the ice. No off-ice issues either.
  • Work/Discipline – The Sharks win as much because of their hard work as their talent.
  • Philosophy – Todd’s system is both a proven winner (Detroit) and fits his personnel.
  • Motivation – They’re not up 100% of the time but rarely coast thru full games.
  • Strategy – Again, the game strategy works and so do his line combos.
  • Tactics – The Sharks do a good job of adjusting between periods.
  • Overall coaching grade: A. Could be A+ or A- depending on playoff outcome.
  • 2. Mike Anderson, MU Tigers, basketball

  • Team Chemistry – A few off-court issues but minor compared to Quin Snyder. The team clicks.
  • Work/Discipline – Mike’s system only works if the players outwork the opponent. They do.
  • Philosophy – His defense-first pressure system is called “40 min. of hell.” It works.
  • Motivation – They beat KU because at halftime he laughed and told them to just calm down!
  • Strategy – After Snyder’s stand-around offense, Mike’s strategy is exciting.
  • Tactics – Mike doesn’t get out-coached during games; he pulls the right strings.
  • Overall coaching grade: B+. Could be A, A-, or B, B- depending on play in tourneys.
  • 3. Gary Pinkel, MU Tigers, football

  • Team Chemistry – Gary fosters good chemistry. A few off-field issues but he handles them.
  • Work/Discipline – Good work habits overall. Defensive mental lapses were too common though.
  • Philosophy – Offense: Spread works very well. Defense: Glad Eberflus is gone!
  • Motivation – Good overall but nerves often seemed to be a problem in big games.
  • Strategy – Playbook is very good when not too cute. Blitzes too predictable & often failed.
  • Tactics – Improved greatly over the past few years; they even won some in the 2nd half.
  • Overall coaching grade: B-. 2009, a reloading year, will reveal much about his true grade.
  • 4. Mike Singletary, SF 49ers, football

  • Team Chemistry – Greatly improved since Mike took over, but he needs to settle the QB issue.
  • Work/Discipline – Probably Mike’s strongest asset. It’s team-first or ride the pine.
  • Philosophy – “Smash-mouth” is cause for concern. I prefer scheme-derived success.
  • Motivation – Another of Mike’s main assets. Even players in his doghouse love him.
  • Strategy – I expect his defense will get the most from his players. Offense? We’ll see…
  • Tactics – The 49ers came back to win some, but the Arizona game-end fiasco was worrisome.
  • Overall coaching grade: C. But to be fair, he has yet to do it all HIS way for a season.
  • 5. Bruce Bochy, SF Giants, baseball

  • Team Chemistry – Doesn’t seem to be any discontent; revolving door of players doesn’t help.
  • Work/Discipline – Having so many old players beside rookies keeps things in line.
  • Philosophy – Limited talent limits options, e.g. can’t play long ball w/o power hitters.
  • Motivation – Team generally appears a tad listless as if fated to finish near the bottom.
  • Strategy – Here again limited talent limits roster, batting order, and bullpen options.
  • Tactics – Bruce seems to do an OK job pulling the strings for what he has to work with.
  • Overall coaching grade: D. But he needs a team with more talent to assess him fairly.
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