by Kent Sterling
I look at the mood swings of Chuck Pagano, the uncertainty surrounding Rick Pitino, and the constant din of criticism for Tom Crean, and I wonder whether being a coach is worth the money or sacrifice.
It’s a tough life, even for a secure coach with a pristine record of winning and compliance.
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The anxiety is endless, and the sacrifices massive. Some moments appear to be fun, and the opportunity to help young men and women thrive in sports and life is unique, but the scales tip farther away from the good every time I talk to a coach or read about allegations against them.
Many say the best day for a coach is the day he is hired, and from there it’s all downhill until the end comes.
Local coaches are either in trouble, or enjoying unprecedented success in their roles. I know they make a lot of cash, but would you swap spots in your life with any of these guys?
- The Indiana Pacers are about to enjoy their 40th season in the NBA. Until late last season, no one in that time had ever coached more than 328 games – the equivalent of four full seasons. That Frank Vogel is the all-time leader in games coached for the Pacers speaks to the nomadic lives of NBA coaches.
- After the Chicago Cubs finished the 2014 season with a record of 73-89, Cubs president Theo Epstein told the media that Rick Renteria would return as manager for a second season. Weeks later, when Joe Madden became available, the Cubs pounced and Renteria was dispatched.
- Chuck Pagano‘s job as coach of the Colts is hanging by a thread after three straight 11-5 seasons and advancing an additional step in the playoffs every year. No one was sure he would survive Monday after losing Sunday afternoon 27-21 to the 2-4 Saints at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts lead the AFC South, and still Pagano shows up for work each day wondering whether it might be his last. Former NFL coach Rick Venturi is fond of saying that every NFL team is a three-game losing streak from chaos. After losing to the Patriots and Saints, the Colts are a Monday Night Football loss at Carolina away from the first three-game losing streak in Pagano’s tenure.
- When Brandon Miller abruptly left the Butler basketball program, Chris Holtmann was elevated to the position of interim head coach. That “interim” piece of the puzzle meant Holtmann was the coach until somebody better was found – tomorrow, next week, or at the end of the season – unless through winning he proved he was the right guy for the gig. If the Bulldogs failed to thrive under him, both he and his staff would have been fired. They won, and Holtmann is as solidly in charge as anyone in that position can ever expect to be.
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- In Bloomington, Tom Crean wisely negotiated a contract extension during a period of program resurgence that included a severely punitive buyout for Indiana University should he be fired. That virtually eliminated the chance that wildly unpredictable waves in the ocean of college basketball would carry him away from Assembly Hall. Smart guy. As a result, IU has remained stalwart in their support of Crean despite two disappointing seasons for the Hoosiers on and off the court. If not for the buyout, which dropped from a stratospheric $12 million to $7.5 million on July 1, 2015, Crean would likely be running a MAC or Patriot League program. Instead, he has another season at the helm which brings with it a shot at redemption.
- Just across the parking lot, Kevin Wilson’s back is against the wall as his fifth season may be one month from ending – if IU cannot win two of its final four games to become bowl eligible. Wilson has attacked the virtually impossible calculus of winning at IU with passion and diligence but has yet to crack that bowl eligibility theorem that has perplexed five other coaches over the past 20 years with the exception of Bill Lynch who lucked into a solution once. Wilson has two years left on his deal, which means it is very likely IU will either extend Wilson or can him. How 18-23 year olds fight during the final two games will likely tell the tale
- Matt Painter tried to follow up the success provided by a great recruiting class in 2007 by recruiting a group of superior athletes who lacked in the ability to play as a unit, and it almost cost him his job. He recently switched strategies to recruit those who he felt would be enjoyable to coach – kids who fit the Purdue brand of player that Painter was himself. The Boilermakers pulled a very striking about face, and are now talented enough to win the Big Ten and have the potential to compete for a National Championship.
The only tangible reward for the misery associated with coaching is the absolute certainty that a scoreboard provides. In business, a narrative of winning can be concocted from the rubble of abject defeat, but in sport a 106-99 loss like that suffered last night by the Indiana Pacers in their season opener is a 106-99 loss. Period. End of story.
Is the clarity on the scoreboard worth the fickleness of the business?
I think Crean would actually be a very good MAC coach. He would get superior talent and win that conference to death. You can win with 6’7 centers in leagues like that. Big Ten? Not so much. This goes back to his ego and rigid philosophy – he knows better than everyone else. Any wonder why Bo Ryan derisively calls him Tommy Basketball? Crean is a know-it-all with no flexibility to adjust.