Canned Again?: Coaching Carousel Spins Out of Control

Phoenix Suns Head Coach Terry Porter was fired last Sunday. So what? The Suns are a very talented team that was obviously underachieving this season. With a nucleus that includes Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Nash, the franchise is in a win-now situation. However, Porter was only given four months to show the Suns franchise what he could do. This firing only adds to the disturbing trend that is subsuming the sporting world: win now or you are out. But instead of helping the situation, these franchises are only making things worse.

For the last five years, the Phoenix Suns were perennial title contenders. Led by Mike D’Antoni and his Seven Seconds or Less offense, the Suns aimed to outscore teams all the way to the championship. This strategy worked until the Suns reached the playoffs, where teams like the San Antonio Spurs made just enough stops to expose the Suns defense, which essentially featured three players because Amare Stoudamire and Steve Nash might as well sit on the bench when their team doesn’t have the ball. Each year the Suns came up just a little short, and when General Manager Steve Kerr came in, he made it clear things would change. He dealt Shawn “The Matrix” Marion for Shaq, giving the Suns a slower team. When D’Antoni was unceremoniously allowed to leave this summer, it came as no surprise.

Porter was Kerr’s pick as head coach because of his track record being a defensive mastermind. It didn’t matter to Kerr that giving the Suns roster to a defensive-minded coach is like allowing Derek Zoolander to do your taxes. The Suns have struggled this year adapting to the change, and I guess this was enough for Kerr to make a change. The issue is that taking a team that was so offensive-minded (D’Antoni didn’t even want them to foul for fear it would slow down the game) and instilling them with defensive principles will take time. If Kerr didn’t want to go through this transition period, he should have just kept D’Antoni in the first place. And the worst part of the firing is that getting rid of a coach isn’t going to immediately solve any problems. Alvin Gentry is taking over the Suns, and although he claims that the Suns will run-and-gun again, his 179-226 career coaching record is less than stellar. If Kerr expects impressive results, he might as well warm up his seat next to Marv Albert, because he’ll be doing TNT games next year.

There’s another league out there that some of you might not be so acquainted with. They play it on ice, and the league is called the NHL. Even though it has been flying so far under the radar, it still hasn’t been able to sneak past this trend. Last summer the Tampa Bay Lightning hired Barry Melrose as their new coach. You may remember Melrose as the man who rocked the “business in the front, party in the back” mullet on your TV screen as an ESPN analyst. He was hired to revitalize a franchise that is facing a financial crisis even though it’s only five years removed from a league title. However, after only sixteen games Melrose was fired. Honestly, how can you tell if a coach is going to be successful after sixteen games? Ownership supposedly was unhappy with how Melrose handled the playing time of rookie Steven Stamkos, who was the first overall pick in last year’s draft. Shouldn’t this be something that was taken care of in the interview?

The worst perpetrator in this whole coach-firing issue is Al Davis, the owner of the Raiders. Al had Jon Gruden as his coach, who he pushed out for some unknown reason after the 2002 season (I’d guess it was because Gruden was actually a good coach). Since that time the Raiders have employed five coaches: Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell, Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable. The first four coaches (the fifth is just starting) each led for two seasons or less. Gee Al, I wonder why the Raiders have been so awful these past few years? Maybe it’s because every coach starts getting comfortable and then you fire them. The Raiders are a perfect example of why the sports world just needs to calm down. Just because you bring in a new coach does not mean that your team will automatically win games. This is a process that takes time, and firing coaches as they start just doesn’t work.

I’m a big sports fan, so I know as well as anyone how badly fans want their teams to win. But people need to understand that being a fickle fan isn’t going to help. If you give a coach a long enough time at the helm, things are bound to get better. Even Byron Scott is enjoying some success as coach of the Hornets! My advice to fans: suck it up and wait. Give your new coach three years, and then if nothing gets better you have my permission to make your “Fire ____” fan clubs. All I’ll be asking for then is a shirt.