Coaches take blame for uninspired teams

First published in the Lethbridge College Endeavour, March 11, 2009

Seven down, 23 to go.

On Monday morning in Montreal, Les Canadiens’ head coach Guy Carbonneau became the seventh, and most shocking yet, NHL bench boss to be fired this season. These aren’t a bunch of nobodies receiving early golf seasons either.

Every single one of them is a household name and has achieved great success in their hockey careers.

The other coaches who were let go are: Barry Melrose (Tampa Bay), Peter Laviolette (Carolina), Denis Savard (Chicago), Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa), Michel Therrien (Pittsburgh) and Tom Renney (New York Rangers).

Were all of these men doing terrible jobs? Therrien coached the same system that got his club to the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals last year but had to do it with way less talent. Carbonneau’s team finishes first in the East last year, suffers some injuries this year, folds like origami and he get’s blamed.

Tom Renney’s boss, Glenn Sather, hasn’t made a decent move in a decade and constantly overpays overrated wash-ups, yet he survives while he changes coaches like a teenage girl changes her mind.

Tampa signs a couple of senior citizens in the off season to play with one superstar, an 18-year-old, and a pile of never-willbees then sends its coach out after 16 games — a coach they recruited out of a cushy broadcast post with ESPN.

The stories get discussed for a few days and then the world goes right on spinning.

But this is all just continuing evidence that coaching in the NHL has become completely insignificant.

All of these teams get a new leader, enjoy a week or two of inspired play, and generally go right back to their old selves anyway. Years ago, before the world made athletes richer than banks, coaches used to enjoy a crazy little concept called “job security.”

The job was evaluated over extended periods of time. When general managers would let a coach go he would generally do it after the season, or at least give them some time to turn around an elongated slump before dropping the hammer.

Now if a team underachieves for a few weeks the coach is instantly on his way out. It doesn’t take much to get fans asking for a swift hook either. How many losses in a row does a team need before fans call for a coaches’ head? Five? Six?

This is where the real problem exists.

What choice does a GM have when his club is tanking games and sliding in the standings?

Between just players and coaches a GM oversees around 30 men at any given time. Twenty five of them are either in multi-million dollar contracts or youths who are soon-to-be multi-million dollar contract holders. Three or four of them are assistant coaches, whom only diehard fans can even recall by name.

If fans are calling for action, that leaves one poor shmuck to foot the entire bill.

It’s entirely unfair but it’s not going to change. GM’s have someone to answer to as well and aren’t about to be accused of sitting idle while a team falls apart. Fans seem to be OK with this because coaches come and go all year, every year, and not much gets said.

But why aren’t fans calling for a player’s head from time to time? Aren’t they the ones that get paid money the rest of us can’t even fathom?

If you watch enough hockey it becomes clear that not many players give full effort for 82 games.

If fans aren’t too busy spending terrible amounts of money on tickets to notice this, then they’re off losing their savings because they gambled on a lackluster team and the concept eludes them.

Either way, if people don’t start demanding more from an overpriced product then coaches will continue to take the fall.

And if coaching continues to be useless how, exactly, will the game improve?

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