Famed 18th century French writer/philosopher Voltaire is credited with popularizing the expression “better is the enemy of good” — sentiment that implies that there is something to be said for trusting the satisfactory quality of a performance or job instead of embarking on what could be a fruitless quest of wasted energy while trying to improve upon it.
In modern times, that phrase has been turned around, perhaps most notably by author and business consultant James C. Collins, as such: “good is the enemy of great.” The meaning in this case is quite different, of course, suggesting that the complacency brought about by something yielding satisfactory results can keep us from striving to do even better.
If 21st century sports teams and their fans have been forced to choose between those two trains of thought, it appears quite clear that they have picked the latter.
Being “good” these days as an organization almost implies a resigned sense of failure in an odd way. A good professional team, for instance, is one that is likely steady enough to qualify for postseason play on a regular basis but not great enough to win a championship — a no-man’s land likely to frustrate the modern fan more, even, than a total rebuild with the prospect of greatness on the distant horizon.
Still, it takes a bold stroke to give up good in search of great. Sometimes it backfires; the Gophers football program, for instance, gave up good (Glen Mason) while looking for great. Tim Brewster’s tenure ended up being just the opposite.
The Gophers again ditched good (Tubby Smith) in hopes of great (Richard Pitino) with the basketball program. It’s too soon to call that one, but 0-8 in the Big Ten this year is an unexpected level of growing pains.
In recent days, two more bold examples come to mind: David Blatt, who took the NBA’s Cavaliers to the NBA Finals last season and led them to the East’s best record (30-11) at the midpoint of this year’s season, was fired Friday. Blatt has the seventh-best winning percentage in NBA coaching history in his short tenure (.675) and an even better mark (.700) in the playoffs.
In announcing the move, Cleveland GM David Griffin was quoted as saying, “To be truly elite, we have to buy into a set of values and principles that we believe in.” In short, he didn’t believe Blatt could take the Cavs to another level.
The other example is local, with the news that the Vikings have hired former NFL head coach Pat Shurmur — recently the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia — to play an undefined role on their staff.
Even though the Vikings’ offense struggled a year ago, maintaining patience and continuity could have been justified.
But regardless of what Shurmur’s role ends up being, the message from Mike Zimmer is clear: He’s not satisfied with being good — a division-winning team that loses its first playoff game— and doesn’t mind chasing great even if it means a shift in offensive continuity.
It will be fascinating to see how things work out for both the Cavaliers and Vikings, two franchises desperate for a championship.