It happens every year in sports. A team is projected for success. They have a slow start, they're hit by the injury bug, they have a rough schedule. Whatever the reason, everyone knows about the perennial underachievers in professional sports. And for a long time now, drunk-on-pride general managers seem to think they know a simple solution, an easy equation, to turn the team around. And it seems, at least lately, that the answer is always the same: fire the coach.
Coaching a professional sports team may be the most arduous job in the business. It seems the clock is always ticking, that it's just a matter of time before you slip up and find the pink slip in your hand. Just ask Pat Quinn, former two-time Jack Adams trophy winner (Coach of the Year) and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs since 1998. He was fired by the franchise earlier this year after leading them to the playoffs every season except his last, when the team finished a mere two points behind the last post-season spot. With a career record of 300-222-52 with the Leafs, it's very questionable whether Quinn, whose roster hardly could complain they didn't know how to play under the veteran leader, was the most responsible for the team's disappointing finish. Yet being in convenient striking distance, he was the easiest candidate to go, if only so General Manager John Ferguson could say he did something productive.
The NHL has been a prime example in recent years of such alienation of the head coach. After all, only two active coaches in the league have coached the same team for at least seven full seasons, Barry Trotz of Nashville and Lindy Ruff of Buffalo. Every other team in the league has a coach who's been on payroll for no more than six seasons, not including the current season.
It seems that usually a team's success is attributed more to the players, while team failure is blamed largely on coaches. This dichotomy is strange and in some ways unexplainable, but it is confirmed year after year when Hall of Fame-material coaches are ousted while enigmatic players are handed lucrative, long-term contracts. The bright side is that these coaches are usually rehired within a year by another team that impatiently fired theirs. Take this year's Philadelphia Flyers, who epitomized the term "gut reaction" this year when they stripped their upper management after just eight games, including firing head coach Ken Hitchcock. Never mind the chronic goaltending problems, or the injury-prone Peter Forsberg, or the poor decision to sign slow veterans like Derian Hatcher in a younger, quicker, newer NHL.
But that's the way the story goes. Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam, and so goes the twisted merry-go-round of sports management.