My long-held theory that the greatest scam in the history of head coaching in North American sports was the football bossman who decided to assign the title “coordinator’’ to specific assistants on offense and on defense.
Head coaches for years had watched as owners and/or general managers addressed the press during the middle of a disappointing season by saying, “We have full confidence in Pete (to pick a name) as our head coach.’’
When this happened, Pete either could put up his house for sale or let the lease expire on his rental, because he was going to be gone at season’s end.
One day there was a coach – I’m not sure it was Pete – contemplating this and said to himself, “There must be some way I can beat the owner and GM to this and be the guy giving the midseason vote of confidence when things aren’t going well.’’
The head coach stressed his brain and came up with a stroke of genius: “I’ll announce that one of my guys is in charge of the offense, and another is in charge of the defense, and we’ll call ‘em … we’ll call ‘em … adviser, ah, organizer.
“No, wait. Coordinator. That sounds really official.’’
And thus it was created, a simple change in wording that can add several years to a head coach’s tenure:
Defense isn’t doing well? You get a year for the fans to grumble about the coordinator, and then halfway through the next season, the head coach offers his vote of confidence, and then he fires the coordinator after the season and hires a new coordinator who is going to fix things.
And if you’re lucky, the defense gets a little better, and the fans will blame the offensive coordinator for any disappointments, and you can run through the two-year spin cycle with him.
The coordinator scam worked so well in increasing job security for head coaches that a decade or so ago they started adding a “coordinator’’ title for the special teams coach.
That way, when your GM drafts a kicker, and as head coach, you go nuts and run off the strong-legged rookie kicker after two games, you can let a special teams coordinator named Mike walk for not insisting to the kid that he stop being nervous and make those kicks.
Yup, I thought the coordinator in football was the head coaching scam that never could be topped, until the last, what, 10-12 years. That’s when college coaches in big-time football and basketball programs started convincing their gullible bosses and also the public that they really needed those coveted recruits to know that they were going to be around for a full five years if those young men were going to sign with State U.
On Sunday, under the cover of the off-day between the Final Four semifinals and championship game here in Minneapolis, the Gophers revealed the third extension for Richard Pitino in his six seasons as the men’s basketball coach.
This might be a world record for a coach who inherited a viable program (No. 35 in RPI in Tubby Smith’s last season) and owns a .363 winning percentage in half-dozen conference regular seasons.
Norwood Teague, the athletic director that fired Smith and hired Pitino, sneaked in the first extension before being forced to resign in August 2015 for untoward overtures toward the opposite gender.
That’s the one that started Pitino with a $7 million buyout and prevented him from being in jeopardy after the 2015-16 season – the worst in Gophers history (8-23 overall, 2-16 in the Big Ten).
In addition to Teague’s fondness for Pitino, part of the motive for that extension was the false rumor that young Richard was a serious candidate to be the new coach at Alabama.
Pitino responded with his best season, 11-7 in the Big Ten for fourth place, and then new AD Mark Coyle added another season to the deal – this time, with some conversation about how this would help guarantee to recruits that Richard wound be present for their full careers.
Admittedly, we haven’t heard that one as the explanation for the two-year add-on that Coyle offered up on Sunday – mainly, because Coyle and Pitino settled for a couple of cliched responses in a news release and refused to answer questions from a Star Tribune reporter.
Pitino had a fair season, 9-11 in the Big Ten, and then an NCAA tournament victory, and he deserved to keep the job. There was also a vague report that Arkansas might be interested in Pitino. The Razorbacks had a better idea and hired Eric Musselman after his successful tenure at Nevada.
As for the latest extension, Coyle and Pitino were so proud of it that it came off as a news dump, but we can be assured an abundance of 4-star recruits noticed and are now relieved that Richard is certain to be here for five more seasons, through 2023-24.
Or not. It really doesn't make any difference. It's just a good cover story for handing out a completely unnecessary extension.