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Coaches and Candidates
Why don't we put as much thought into picking our leaders as we do into picking our coaches?
Imagine this. You are a big fan of your local football team. Your team had a coach from 2001 to 2009. He was really disliked by a section of the fan base. And the press hated him. But he did a passable job. Enough for the team management to extend his contract. But the last few seasons, the team performed poorly. When his contract ran out in 2009, Team management sought another head coach. The one they found was likable charismatic and popular with a good portion of the fan base. The press loved him. He was also quite inexperienced and had never been a head coach. But he had some untested radical ideas and they thought that might be what was needed to turn the team around. Management gave him a chance. He did not turn the team around, in fact over the next four seasons, the team got worse. He blamed the previous coach who left him a lousy team. His in-game decisions were at times bad. He poisoned the team‘s future by wasting and trading away valuable draft choices. When it came time for management to consider his contract and his future with the team, He used his personality to spin his woeful win-loss record to his advantage. He promised to use the same things that hadn’t worked in the previous four seasons and bring the team to the playoffs the next year. After careful consideration, management agreed to resign the coach, despite the fact that another coaching candidate had the experience and knowledge to deal with the problems and improve the team. They told the public he was a great, likable guy who deserved to remain the coach of this team. The press loved it and so did casual fans. They felt good with his new contract. But fans who knew a little about the game were very worried about the future of the team. They looked at the numbers and were dumbfounded that this man was given a contract extension.
Sound plausible? Not on your life. In real life, the coach would have been fired when it became obvious that he was not improving the team and no amount of personality, charisma or salesmanship could help him. He was given a job to improve a bad team and he didn’t. He would be unceremoniously shown the door.
By now I’m sure you’ve figured out that I’m not talking about a football coach, I’m talking about the President. Substitute President for coach and the American people for management and this is exactly what happened. In politics “losing seasons” can be spun to the advantage of the incumbent. A candidate will try to reach the people and convince enough of them that he is trying his best and he is a great person. This election proved that failure is not necessarily a reason why an office holder won’t be reelected.
Sports is not that way. Lose and you will be looking for work. Sports is, as sports radio host Gerry Callahan put it “the ultimate meritocracy”. There is no spin. A 4-12 record can not be hidden. The players, fans, commentators and even the coach know it. This record is in black and white, never to be debated. Not so unemployment numbers, GDP, inflation and a host of other facts. Listening to the three Presidential debates, my head was spinning listening to Romney and Obama as they constantly attempted to take the same set of facts and make themselves look good while simultaneously making the other look bad. All the candidate has to do is convince enough of the voters that he is likable, dependable, warm and they will be able to sleep better with him as President.
In sports, winning is everything. Nothing else matters. Being a New England Patriots fan. I’ve seen this first hand over the last 13 years.
Head coach Bill Belichick is a football genius. He has led his team to the Super Bowl 5 out last of the last 12 seasons, winning 3 times. He has led the Patriots to the playoffs 9 times and barring a late season collapse, he will lead his team to the playoffs again this season. His teams are always well prepared and his lifetime record with the Patriots is 155-59.
But he can be humorless, moody and short with reporters. Part of being an NFL head coach is the obligation to represent the team in interviews. He understands that but never gives a lot of information. Everything that comes out of his mouth is measured and careful. He is not about to say something untoward. He says nothing that may give an opponent an advantage down the road. In 12+ years of watching and listening to him, I’ve never heard him answer a probing question. (and reporters continue to ask them).Reporters do not like him because he makes their job hard. In short he does not come across as a warm likable person. Fans of other teams do not like him either (but that may because his teams are consistently successful) I can assume that there are not a lot of people trying to get him to run for office. But he is one of the most successful coaches in NFL history and very popular with Patriots fans. Other coaches and managers are similar. They only look at the bottom line (I.e. win-loss record) and will let people know that. They have a job to do and don’t care how they are viewed. Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants and Tony LaRussa, formerly of the Oakland As and St. Louis Cardinals come to mind.
Why do we analyze the players and coaches on our favorite teams and call for their ouster when they are not producing, yet allow ourselves to be swayed by salesmanship when it comes time to pick our leaders? After all, sports is merely a diversion and a Presidential election will select the leader who is going to affect our country, jobs, our children’s future and many other important factors in our lives.
In politics it seems that personality and philosophy are more important than actual achievement. In private business, achievement is important also. Which is why, all things being equal, I prefer candidates with previous real world experience over career politicians who get reelected time after time based on spin, personality and reputation. After all shouldn’t we put more thought into choosing our leaders than our head coaches?