By Ryan McNeill
While reading through Andrew Blauner’s book “Coach” I came across yet another McGuire gem that I wanted to share with readers. According to Frank Deford, McGuire told him that;
“The trouble with coaching, the prevailing image, is that coaching is like what you had in high school, because that is the last place where most people were involved with coaching. But coaching college is not pizza parties and getting the team together down at that A&W stand. People can’t understand my players screaming back at me, but it’s healthy. Also, I notice that the screaming always comes when we’re fifteen, twenty ahead. When it’s tied, then they’re all listening very carefully to what I have to say.
Can you picture Scott Skiles giving his players this kind of freedom? There’s no chance! This is the same coach that flipped out about something trivial like Ben Wallace wearing a headband.
Now try to imagine George Karl lasting more than 10 years with one team. It’s not going to happen because of the way he gets under the skin of his players because he plays mind games with them and he is known for yelling at them during games and practices. While Karl has always enjoyed immediate success wherever he has coached, after a couple years players always start to tune him out.
I think coaches like Al McGuire and Phil Jackson are successful because they know how to relate to players. In the past coaches who would yell and run a dictatorship in the locker room were the coaches who had success. The game and players have changed now and players need a coach they can relate to. Modern players respond better to coaches that are teachers and resemble father figures. Coaches like Mike D’Antoni, Avery Johnson and Lawrence Frank are the next wave of coaches because they can calmly relate to players without being a dictator.
In a recent article for ESPN The Magazine Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni told Dan Le Batard that he’d never scream at Steve Nash but “he’s yelled at me a few times though.”
Can you picture Scott Skiles or Jerry Sloan putting up with a player screaming at them? No chance! However, it’s this understanding of Nash’s competitive nature that allows D’Antoni and the Suns to enjoy success because Nash’s creativity and fiery leadership isn’t hindered by his coach.
D’Antoni explains why he doesn’t yell later in the article when he says:
“You have to be careful how many times you yell, because they will turn you off. I always played better for a coach who worked with me.”
As a player I know that I can faintly hear my coach during games. Due to adrenaline and being focussed in the game at hand I rarely hear my coach because I get wrapped up in a game. I have had a couple of coaches that were “yellers” and I found that I heard them even less because I unconsciously tuned them out.
Another great point was raised in Le Batard’s article when Avery Johnson was quoted as saying:
“People confuse meekness with weakness. If a guy doesn’t holler or if every other word isn’ a curse, he’s not tough.”
My favourite line in this entire comes from Le Batard when he closed off the column by writing:
“New age leaders like D’Antoni don’t see the need for spilled blood. It’s more rewarding when you can persuade your men to donate it.”
I couldn’t think of a more fitting ending to an article on effective coaches. After all, isn’t getting your men to play their best the purpose of being a coach? Who cares if you look good ranting and stomping along the sidelines if your players tune you out. It’s coaches like D’Antoni and Johnson who are ushering in the next generation of coaching in the NBA.
I think it’s a huge statement to how brilliant Al McGuire was that he was 30 years ahead of this coaching trend.