Coaches are often allowed to hang around far too long because they are chasing some elusive record. The most spectacular example of this is the battle between Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden for the most all-time career wins in college football history.
Both coaches are old… really, really old (Bowden is 80 and Paterno is 82). Both coaches established respected legacies built upon winning records and national titles. Both coaches became the face of their respective football programs. But time catches up with everyone. Bowden’s legacy was the first to crack. Criticism mounting over Florida State’s underwhelming play, during the latter half of the current decade, led to his eventual retirement – which was officially announced earlier this week. But, the writing was on the wall much earlier. Bowden’s offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher, was tapped as his successor in 2007. The sitautions should have indicated to Bowden that it was time for a change when his school picked his replacement while he was still coaching
Paterno’s Penn State Nittany Lions boast a more impressive record over the past few seasons, but it leaves one to wonder if the clock is ticking on JoePa’s tenure since he has received criticism for his coaching and recruiting. In 2006 an 80-year-old Paterno broke his leg after he took a helmet to the knee during a collision out-of-bounds, and folded like a cheap accordion. This begs the question, should a coach even be allowed to stay once they reach a certain age? Sure, some say that Joe Paterno wears a suit when he coaches so they can bury him right after the game, but does anyone really want it to come to that? If these venerable coaches should be shown the door, then certainly schools with lesser coaches have every right to do likewise.
Allowing an ineffective coach to avoid retirement because of tradition or sentimentality is not only wrong, but it messes with the natural order of the universe. Seeing as how I am facing the Sports Geek for the first time ever, I figured I might out-geek him with some nerd knowledge. The second law of thermodynamics states that everything moves from a state of order to disorder. In layman’s terms, everything breaks down. This is true of all matter, and the last time I checked coaches were still made of matter. Ergo, coaches breakdown. They deteriorate both physically and in ability right in front of our eyes (and according to my calculations, Lou Holtz is due to turn into a pile of dust in approximately 5, 4, 3, 2, …).
Sure, legendary coaches deserve our respect, but they do not have the right to dictate when it is their time to retire. Adherence to tradition out of fear of the future is foolhardy. American philosopher and founding father Thomas Paine once said of blindly following tradition, “We may as well assert that because a child has thrived upon milk, that it is never to have meat.” Similarly it is illogical to think no one can fill the shoes of our favorite coaches. We should not fear showing coaches the door when they start to slip. If the powers within a program believe they can do better with someone else coaching, I say go for it. Many, including yours truly, thought the Yankees would never find a replacement for legendary coach Joe Torre. But, low and behold, just two years after his somewhat forced departure the Yankees won their elusive 27th World Series Championship under the management of Joe Girardi.
Change happens. It is an unavoidable fact, but life goes on. The issue of when a coach should retire becomes distorted when viewed through the lens of team loyalty. Looking back on a coach’s legacy, it is hard to evaluate subjectively. But, we owe it to our team and our coach to be honest about the situation. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go!