College football kicked off this past weekend and I was in heaven as I caught as much of the action as possible. As I wrote in a previous post, I am passionate about the game. Once September hits my Saturdays are devoted to college football. I pretty much love everything about the game except of course when my favorite teams lose and one other thing that never fails to get on my nerves.
Now you might think I am sensitive to this issue because I work in an athletic department and I am around coaches pretty much six days a week from dawn until night. I get to witness firsthand the immense amount of pressure they are under, the stress they put themselves through, the lengths they go to give their team the best chance to win, and the ungodly hours they put into their job that you could never imagine. However, having observed “the life of a coach” the two years I have worked in intercollegiate athletics it has not really shaped my view on the subject I am just about to get into but rather it has confirmed it. Because I grew up in a sports family with some of the most first class, knowledgeable fans I have ever known, I have lived my whole life following a certain code that so many others choose to break once adversity hits.
I can’t stand fair-weather armchair coaches. Let me say that again….I can’t stand fair-weather armchair coaches. For all of you out there who don’t really follow sports, an armchair coach is someone who has no affiliation with a given team other than for the fact that they call themselves a “fan” and feel that they know a thousand times more about football (or whatever sport it is) than the entire coaching staff combined. These armchair coaches are great at basking in the glory when things are going good for their team. Usually, when the ball is bouncing the way of their team and the wins seem to be piling up, their “coaching duties” are pretty minimal. They will just bitch about the fact that the coach went for it on 4th and 1 instead of attempting a 55 yard field goal on a rainy day into the wind. Of course, this precious coaching advice does not come until after the fourth down play was stuffed. What you really have to watch out for with these fair-weather armchair coaches is when a team runs into some adversity and starts to struggle a little bit. When the team of an armchair coach starts to lose, they take it very personally and feel like they must offer their expertise. This is when I wish someone would save me and blow my ears off so I do not have to listen to their gibberish.
Call me old school, but I live under the adage that you support your team no matter what. I thank my dad so much for instilling this in my mind. He taught me to steer clear of all the negative crap that people love to shell out and to stay true to your team (coaches and players) through thick and thin. Growing up in Spokane and with my dad being a Washington State University alum, he would take me down to Pullman for all of the Cougar football games. These made up some of the best memories of my childhood. If you know much about Cougar Football, you know they are pretty bad so I witnessed a lot of losing. I still looked up to all of those coaches as if they were gods though partly because my dad never said a cross word about them and gave them nothing but respect. I took this example with me throughout the years as I followed other teams and as I ventured through my own athletic playing career.
So many of these armchair coaches feel that the two years they spent on their varsity high school football team makes them experts on the sport. Give me a break. Playing a sport at a low level is much different from coaching it at a high level. I guess I should probably give these gridiron prepster all-stars some credit though because they actually have a wealth of experience compared to some of the people I hear sniffling about coaches and what they would do in their situation. Look, I would never think about critiquing a gymnastics coach. What right do I have to do that? The only gymnastics I ever participated in were the tumbling classes my mom enrolled me in when I was three years old. It is complete asinine to think that I could offer Bela Karolyi a couple pointers on how to get his gymnasts a couple more tenths of a point on the vault. Okay, let’s just make this general rule right now: If you have never competed at the level in which the coach you are criticizing is coaching at, just keep your mouth shut. Without an iota of experience, you have absolutely no clue. And if you have not even played the sport in your whole life cause you were too lazy or did not have the guts to try out, don’t even think about criticizing in the first place.
Sometimes I don’t think these armchair coaches realize just how much knowledge and experience these coaches have. Let’s just start with assistant coaches at the college level on any Division I roster. If you read their bios you will quickly notice that many of these guys shined as collegiate players and a good majority of them had some professional experience. You will then notice that they have made numerous stops at other schools to finally arrive at their current spot. Take a look at their education too, many of them hold Master’s degrees. Lots of these degrees are in areas such as Educational Leadership, Public Administration, Athletic Administration, etc. I mean their education is tailor-made for a career in coaching. If you read a biography of a head coach you will be amazed. You will go through a long list of prior coaching spots across the nation they once held, NFL stars they had coached, legendary coaches they had coached with, awards they have won, and degrees they hold. To think that some thirty year old dude with no college degree who never played football in his life feels he has the right to challenge the job performance of a coach is a joke.
Another thing that I have a problem with when it comes to these armchair coaches is they think they know more than a coach based on the three hours they invest on Saturdays to watch the game. They feel that by watching from the stands or from their couch while downing beers that they know how well a coach is doing based solely on whether the team wins or not. So many people are ignorant to the amount of time that coaches put in. They have no idea that coaches spend around 18-20 hours a day during the season preparing their team. They watch film, participate in coaches’ meetings, participate in players’ meetings, watch more film, deal with administrative issues pertaining to the team, conduct practice, deal with the media, fulfill community obligations, develop a game plan, create scouting reports, watch more film, and so much more. At the school I work at, the light is ALWAYS on in office of our head coach. There is absolutely no rest for these coaches. How can someone who only watches the game, a three hour event, believe they know more than a coach who spends close to 150 hours a week focusing solely on football and the given game that weekend? Take a reality check and just don’t say a word.
Armchair coaches are the most impatient people in the world. They expect to win RIGHT NOW. They have absolutely no idea what it takes to make /maintain a winning program. They are clueless about why coaches do things the way they do. They know nothing about the challenges that will always occur when there is a coaching change. If you are a new coach at a program, watch out for the armchair coaches, especially if you are inheriting a traditional winning program. Armchair coaches have a tough time dealing with change. They are clueless on all the factors that go into the previous coaching staff leaving and believe that the transition should be seamless. They don’t think for one second that the previous coaching staff left because maybe they felt that the cupboard was a little more bare than usual. Don’t for one second think these armchair coaches will be fair human beings and give the new coaching staff a few years to implement their system with their players. It is just not in the WIN NOW nature of armchair coaches.
Earlier I made the point of saying that I would never critique a coach of a sport I did not play, especially when it came to anything game plan/technique related. Well let me close this post out by broadening this point a little more. Coaching is a profession. It is a very demanding and challenging profession. I would never try to say that I know more than someone who works in a profession that I have never had any education/experience in. Sorry, but I am not going to pick on an electrical engineer and blast him in a bar or on a message board saying he has no idea how to do his job and then give pointers on what he could do to be halfway competent. Worry about your own job and your own career.
So as a new collegiate sports season is upon us, I ask all of you to be real sports fans. Support your team! If it is going to be a tough year, let your whole damn community know that you are going to support them through thick and thin and wear your team colors proudly. When some jerk disguised as a fan disses your team, find solace in the fact that you love your team no matter what and that your life is not so wrapped up in the final win-loss record that you must resort to insulting someone who has way more invested in that team than you ever will. Please, leave the coaching to the professionals. Stay classy everyone! Don’t Blink.