Remember when coaches used to get fired? Sounds crazy all right. But there actually was a time when someone — owner, general manager, athletics director — would stand up at a podium and say, “We have fired our coach.”
Then he or she would spell out the areas in which that coach failed to meet expectations, vow to do better the next time, then step aside and let people debate whether the deposed leader got a raw deal or the promise of better times to come was legit.
The sports world could take a lesson from — weird as it seems — Donald Trump. Perhaps he can create a sports-themed spinoff of Celebrity Apprentice. Rather than teach stars how to succeed in business, he could offer decision-makers in all areas of athletics pointers on how to have and — more importantly — express the courage of their convictions.
Two words. Three syllables. So simple.
Maybe Trump trademarked the phrase, which means anyone who uses it must pay him a rights fee. In that case, given the fact that firing somebody in sports typically involves a contract buyout, it’d make sense that the firer would want to save a little money. Nothing else effectively explains the decided dearth of the direct approach.
The University of Tennessee came close last week, when it announced that baseball coach Todd Raleigh had been “relieved of his duties as the head baseball coach at the University of Tennessee,” according to the official release.
That was better than the nonsense the Tennessee Titans put forth in January when announcing, “The Tennessee Titans and Jeff Fisher have agreed to part ways, and Fisher will no longer be the head coach of the team.” A day later, franchise officials stuck to that story as if everyone ought to believe an
epiphany struck several key personnel at once that Fisher’s time was finished.
An amalgamation of those two took place at UT in March, when the university “reached an agreement with head men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl that will relieve Pearl and his immediate staff of their duties.”
Vanderbilt wanted one and all to believe in November that football coach Robbie Caldwell “stepped down.” Players later revealed that Caldwell told them the truth — he was fired. No one was willing to say it publicly, though.
It does the fired coach no favors when former employers hide behind semantics. Instead, it creates confusion regarding their departure that probably makes it more difficult to find work elsewhere.
It also doesn’t help those who made the decision. Maybe people like UT’s Mike Hamilton, Vanderbilt’s David Williams or the Titans’ Mike Reinfeldt and Steve Underwood want to be perceived as nice guys who never would fire anyone. Instead, it makes them look weak.
Fans are willing to accept change, provided they believe those implementing the change have a clear idea of what they’re doing. Nothing is clearer than: “You’re fired!”
People aren’t dumb. It was no secret that Raleigh and Caldwell didn’t do so well in their respective roles. It also was apparent to many that Fisher’s performance had dipped to a consistently substandard level, and that Pearl’s shenanigans could no longer be tolerated.
For decades, the prevailing theory was that there are two types of coaches: those who have been fired and those who will be fired. These days, it seems, no one fits into either category.