Thursday, April 8, 2010

College Coaches Fail in The NBA

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Duke’s Coach K quickly dismissed the rumors that he would consider the Godfather offer from the Nets’ Russian playboy owner to coach and possibly be the GM of the New Jersey Nets. Why? Well, as much as Colin Cowherd wanted to try and make a topic for his radio show about how money could make Coach K and LeBron come to the eventual Brooklyn Nets and win titles together, not everyone can be bought. Coach K realized that his legacy is as a long-tenured coach at one institution where he has had tremendous success and there was minimal upside and maximum downside to trying his hand with the professionals. He was not a guy like Calipari or Pitino that had bounced from school to school and so a pro stop was just a big pay day along the road. He also knows these key reasons why college coaches do not have success in the pros very often.

I. Power
This is the biggest reason college coaches struggle in the pros. They are used to being the ultimate power with ultimate control over the roster, playing time and practice. In college, any and everything they say is the law, not just in the gym, but likely in the entire town where the school is located. The recent example was Urban Meyer’s handling of the media over a quote they printed. Urban is a big tough guy to intimidate the local Orlando college sports beat reporter. Do you really think the NY Post would take that crap? More importantly, the power structure is different in the locker room in the NBA. An NBA coach can’t use the juvenile punishment tactics that they use in college like taking away a player’s scholarship, removing him from the starting line up or dismissing him from the team. In most instances the players are making multiples of the coaches salary, so why would they listen to the coach? Did you really expect Vince Carter to listen to John Calipari?

This is a tough pill for the coach to swallow after he was given the biggest contract he’s ever gotten in his life and he is viewed as the savior by the local media. Then come in and command a locker room of guys that don’t have to respect you and guys that know the pro game is a different animal than the college game.

II. Different Offenses
I think every coach knows when they make the leap to the pros that the game itself is different and they need to make a tweak to the offense they were running in college. The NBA game is dominated by a two-man pick-and-roll game where the rest of the team is either spotting up or crashing the hoop. The college game is a more open court where an offense can hide players or highlight each players strength. Coaches in college have the ability to recruit the proper players to fit with their system, like Bo Ryan recruiting big men who do not have great post skills but are strong outside shooters which is essential in his swing offense. In the pros the coach takes over an already established roster full of guys in 3-5 year contracts and has to try and figure out how to run an offense around the guys he has. Yes, over time they can mold that roster into a team that fits their preferred offense, but the coaches rarely get that 4-5 year window that would be necessary. People would not be excited to see an intense drama movie with Tina Fey as the lead actress, but if you put her opposite Steve Carrell in a movie with a tremendous amount of physical humor and we’re talking about a highly entertaining movie.

III. Ego
The list of coaches that couldn’t hack it in the pros is a long list, and includes the full spectrum of quality of college coaches from very good to flash in the pan guys. Yet the result is generally the same whether it’s a college super star like Rick Pitino or John Calipari, a middle of the road guy like Mike Montgomery or a flash in the pan like Lon Kruger. They all end up back in college programs. The final thing that really hampers these coaches in their pro career is an outsized ego. Much like the power structure mentioned above, these coaches have huge egos because they have been pursued, recruited and wined and dined with the top of the line ammenities the NBA offers. Then they are thrown to the wolves and told they better win despite all the headwinds. That pressure and being unaccustomed to losing is a huge dent to those egos and can cause the coach to snap, like the infamous Rick Pitino “Larry Bird ain’t walkin’ through that door!” quote.

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