All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Posts Tagged ‘tony dungy’

Change the Game

Posted by hiphopmama on April 25, 2009

One of my new favorite NBA commentators is Nancy Lieberman. Why should you care? Well, for one thing because she is a qualified, skilled announcer with just enough quirkiness to succeed as a color commentator without getting under your skin. Oh, and one of my new faves among NBA referees – an already sterling bunch – is Violet Palmer. Like most NBA refs, she is damn good at making those necessary snap decisions, getting them right, calling them with attitude, and then taking no guff from the players who inevitably feel wronged by the call. My favorite NFL coach? Tony Dungy, by a long shot. Have you ever seen such a class guy for a head coach, in any sport? For someone so soft-spoken and humble in demeanor, he sure whips his teams into shape and gets the absolute most out of them.

Where am I going with all this? A couple different directions, I suppose. The first is simply the point that some of the best and brightest in our current crop of people affiliated with men’s professional sports are among groups traditionally considered minorities in that arena. When I was growing up, the idea of a woman doing anything official on a basketball court besides cheering was unthinkable. Female sideline reporters eventually made some headway in all the big sports, but never did you see a woman calling the game, either behind the broadcast desk or in the striped shirt. Today, I have witnessed more than one of each, and performing admirably.

Still, I have not seen many more than one, and I could count on one hand the number I’ve been able to enjoy in all of those professions combined, which leads me to my second point: there are not enough of these so-called “minorities” despite the excellent jobs they do. I don’t have access to any concrete evaluative system for referees or game commentators, but coaches give you lots of data to work with. 

When Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith faced each other in the Super Bowl in 2007, many different news outlets covered the historic event of two black head coaches appearing in football’s biggest event. What fewer noted was the continued diminished returns seen even since the institution of the “Rooney rule,” which requires teams to interview at least one black coach for an open position. In a league that is approximately 70% black, having seven African American head coaches among the thirty-two teams is not exactly an amazing accomplishment, especially when the NFL likes to pat itself on the back for its progressive hiring. What’s more, black coaches tend to have to perform better than their white peers in order to get and keep these scarce jobs. African American coaches tend to out-perform their white counterparts in virtually every category. They average more wins overall as well as in their first year of coaching. They make the playoffs more often, and once there they win more frequently. Even with all of this, they still are quicker to get fired, averaging better records in their final season before being let go than white coaches in the same situation.

What does all this add up to? It’s a fairly easy conclusion to make, actually, and it is simply this: that we need to do more to incorporate a wider variety of people in all facets of sports. It’s not solely a matter of some abstract notion of fairness, although that is nothing to dismiss out of hand, either. Instead, it should be viewed in terms of what the sport itself, as well as its players and viewers, have to gain should a wider net be cast in filling these high-pressure, high-rewards positions. All the numbers indicate that, when given a chance, these underrepresented groups at the very least perform up to the standards of the typical pool of professionals. And while the Rooney rule is a nice idea, it results in a mere formality that is one step on the road to overlooking potentially qualified candidates for more members of the old boys’ club. Kudos to the NFL for even instituting something of the sort, as no other major sport has a comparable requirement, but more is needed. And that goes for women as well, even in an arena dominated by the Y chromosome.

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Schuster Gets “Vote of Confidence” – Only In Soccer

Posted by hiphopmama on November 17, 2008

After another disappointing loss, their third in four games, the Real Madrid coach was rumored to be on the hot seat for not getting the desired results from his all-star squad (read here about his stay of execution). The loss to Valladolid was indeed painful, in a different way than those losses to a resurgent Juve team, as Real once again looked hapless at the back and frankly uninterested in doing anything about it. It was a listless effort against a spunky team that, no matter how spurred on by their home fans, Real should have beat.

Still, when I heard about Schuster facing possible dismissal if his team lost that game all I could think was, “Only in soccer.” (Or football, or top flight European football – take your pick.) There is lots of talk about the “coaching carousel” in certain U.S. sports, particularly basketball, but it doesn’t even come close to approaching the kind of musical chairs that goes on in the big European leagues. Real Madrid is a case in point. Fabio Capello is brought in for ’06-’07, and he leads the team to a title. It was a grind, and it came down to the last week, but the team got it done. It wasn’t enough, though, and he was fired ostensibly for not playing the kind of football the Real Madrid faithful were used to seeing, adopting a more defensive style that was less flashy than the (notably title-less) Galacticos teams. So next up is Bernd Schuster, who brings back the razzle-dazzle (thanks, Ray Hudson) and leads the team to its second title in two years. So now, early on in the year and after the team’s first league loss, he is potentially on his way out, because these clubs operate on the Janet Jackson principle: what have you done for me lately?

I’ve always been a proponent of giving coaches time to prove their worth, especially if they come in with proven track records to back them. I’m admittedly a noob when it comes to European football, but my experience with the NBA tells me that you have to be patient. It takes time to come in, get a feel for the team culture, assemble the players you want on the roster, institute a new system (if necessary), and change the established mentality, all before you can expect to start winning. It doesn’t always take this long, but when it doesn’t, you can be assured that the system and players were already mostly in place before the new coach swept to power. Larry Brown ended up leading the Pistons to their first title in 14 years, but he did so with a team that Rick Carlisle assembled and brought back from the abyss and into contention. The addition of Rasheed Wallace in Brown’s first year was the thing that probably put them over the top and helped them beat my beloved Lakers. Similarly, when Flip Saunders came in and instituted a more open, offensive style – which was what management wanted from Carlisle all along, in addition to a more personable attitude – he led essentially the same group to the NBA Finals only to see them lose a tight battle to the Spurs. Jon Gruden propelled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a championship in 2002 on the back of Tony Dungy’s grunt work bringing that group together and instituting their renowned defense. Rotating new coaches in and out of already solid teams – as all of these big clubs are – is bound to be a 50-50 endeavor, yielding results as often as “disappointments,” however psychos like Ramon Calderon define those terms.

Thinking about these various coaches leads me to the conclusion that European football coaches are simultaneously more and less valued than coaches in the big sports in the U.S. Coaches in Europe are often superstars to the same extent as their players are, and their every move is scrutinized by the press and rival teams. Phil Jackson is only half jokingly self-dubbed the “Zen Master,” but it doesn’t approach the level of devotion that trails “The Special One” who currently resides in Milan. Despite this, even these larger than life coaches are rather easily disposed of and often for reasons that are entirely foreign to a stateside fan like myself. The Pistons ditched Carlisle partially for his surly demeanor as well as for a difference in opinion over team strategy, but it’s rare for feuds between coaches and team managers to be nearly as direct or as public as they are in Europe. Mourinho chafed under Abramovich’s insistence on Shevchenko’s position with Chelsea and was fired after taking the club to two consecutive league titles, while Capello was unceremoniously disposed of by Madrid for winning the title with less style than the Madridistas demanded. It’s hard for me to imagine an NBA or NFL coach sacked immediately after leading a team to a championship, no matter what justifiable reasons team management or owners might have. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it makes more sense to me that, if you’ve just come off a good performance, you might not want to shake things up. Then again, when you have the ability to just buy and buy and buy more talent, you have no incentive to work on building from what you already have, as happens in U.S. sports with at least a pretense of a salary cap. Instead, you can just ditch whatever doesn’t instantly work and move on to the next quick fix. Unfortunately, it seems like you might get just that – a QUICK fix that doesn’t serve your long-term interests.

But what the hell do I know? I’m just a dumb Yank.

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