The Coaches

[The Coaches]

[Garrett County Press]

Excerpt from
The Coaches
by Bill Libby

He is called "coach" in most sports. He is called the "manager" in baseball. He is the field leader or the court leader or the ice leader — the man on the bench or on the sidelines who practices his team, decides who will play, and guides them in action. He may have assistants to help him. But he alone is responsible for how his team performs. The coach may be the general manager, too, though most often he has a general manager over him in the front office as well as other executives, owners, and perhaps even stockholders who may try to tell him what to do and to whom he is held accountable. And he is in a way accountable to his players and to the writers and the broadcasters and the fans, too, for they usually have some say as to whether or not he keeps his job.

The coach seldom keeps his job for long. It is a difficult job, and there is no clear way to succeed in it. One cannot copy another who is a winner, for there seems to be some subtle, secret chemistry of personality that enables a person to lead successfully, and no one really knows what it is. Those who have succeeded and those who have failed represent all kinds — young and old, inexperienced and experienced, hard and soft, tough and gentle, good-natured and foul-tempered, proud and profane, articulate and inarticulate, even dedicated and casual. Most are dedicated, some more than others, but dedication alone is not enough. Some are smarter than others, but intelligence is not enough. All want to win, but some want to win more than others, and just wanting is not enough in any event. Even winning is often not enough. Losers almost always get fired, but winners get fired, too.

The better coaches may win more often than the poorer ones, all other things being equal, but all other things never are equal. The coach or manager is at the mercy of the talents and temperaments of his players and the judgments and moods of his bosses. He may have some voice in selecting the players he leads or he may not. He may have as good a chance to get top players as the next coach or manager, or he may not. He is in charge of up to one hundred performers, and he must lead them through up to two hundred contests a season. He is out in the open being judged publicly almost every day or night for six, seven, or eight months a year by those who may or may not be qualified to judge him. And every victory and every defeat is recorded constantly in print or on the air and periodically totaled up.

The coach has no place to hide. He cannot just let the job go for a while or do a bad job and assume no one will notice as most of us can. He cannot satisfy everyone. Seldom can he even satisfy very many. Rarely can he even satisfy himself. If he wins once, he must win the next time, too. In the end, almost certainly, he will be fired.

Usually he can get another job — coaching or managing another team. It is the only profession in which there is no stigma attached to being fired. It is said that coaches are hired to be fired. It is accepted as though it were right. So coaches move from team to team staying as long as they can hang on, winning some, losing some, succeeding sometimes, failing sometimes in a madness laughingly called "musical chairs." They plot victories, suffer defeats, endure criticism from within and without, and brook rumors that they are on their way in here or out there. They neglect their families, travel endlessly, and live alone in a spotlight surrounded by others.

Theirs may be the worst profession — unreasonably demanding and insecure and lull of unrelenting pressures. Why do they put up with it? Why do they do it? A few retire, but most hang on desperately, almost unreasoningly. Why? Having seen them hired and hailed as geniuses at gaudy party-like press conferences and having seen them fired with pat phrases such as "fool" or "incompetent," I have wondered about them. Having seen them exultant in victory and depressed by defeat, I have sympathized with them. Having seen some broken by the job and others die from it, I have been moved to write this book.

I have no answers. I have only hoped that by listening to what many of them had to say about coaching that some answers would appear. I have not tried to talk to the most successful or the least successful or the most prominent or the least prominent or even those I liked most or least. Rather, I have talked to those who represented a wide cross section of their breed, from professional, college, and high school teams to those who manage boxers, race drivers, and girl gymnasts. Mostly, I have talked to those who would talk to me, who might tell me honestly and openly what they thought and what went on inside of them as they pursued their dreadful profession.

I had no firm ideas as to what they should say, and I discarded only those interviews in which I felt the subject had been dishonest or unable to reveal himself, and had thrown up a protective wall and was hiding behind the pat answers and cliches of his business. A few have died since being interviewed. A few were interviewed some time ago, though most were interviewed recently.

Some of the coaches are profiled in detail, some sketched briefly. Some seemed to have more meaningful things to say than others. Some were able to say what they had to say simply, and others required more room. Many I knew well, or felt I did, but some I did not. In any event, I was not interested in and did not seek technical details of their job, only their emotional responses to it. I wanted to know less about what they did and more about what they felt while they did it. And, finally, why they did it.

Bill Libby
Westminster, California


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