Grow Up and Accept Responsibility!

The Los Angeles Clippers started the season hot, sparking debate about "who's the best team in L.A. But things have changed and if not careful, they'll find themselves with a new coach, victims of the 'the coach lost the team' epidemic.

I was watching ESPN the other day while working out (I can hear all of my bootcampers telling me to ‘Stop Bullshittin’!) and one of the stories was about the Los Angeles Clippers, who after a start to the season that promised (and showed) great potential, have seemingly taken their rightful seat next to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers as the ‘other’ team in Los Angeles.

No one would argue that the loss of newly signed Chauncey Billups, a proven veteran with skins on the wall, was significant in curtailing the team’s ascension to the NBA elite. Still, they have Blake Griffin, one of the league’s brightest young stars whose aerial assaults on the rim are renowned. And they do have DeAndre Jordan, as athletic a center (at 6’11”, 265) as there is in the league. They also added the much-needed outside shooting of Mo Williams, who only a few years ago teamed up with Lebron James in Cleveland to lead what was before and has been since a mostly moribund franchise to the NBA Finals. And for toughness and the dirty work that doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, I present to you the salty veteran Kenyon Martin. Oh, and by the way, Chris Paul, a perennial All-Star recognized as one of the top handful of point guards in the league, came over this season in one of the year’s few blockbuster trades. A lineup with talent, right? Young talent. Exciting talent. So what’s the problem? The coach!

Vinny Del Negro, the second year head coach whom many deemed a failure as soon as the announcement was made, has been criticized ever since he took the helm in July of 2010. And just like with most situations when a team is losing or not performing well, the coach is the first to blame. It comes with the territory. I get that. But the close cousin to “it’s the coach’s fault” is “the coach has lost the team” and that’s the one that bothers me.

I’m not even sure what it means, to be honest? “The coach has lost the team?” Okay, that’s not entirely true. I know what it is supposed to mean. I’d be naïve not to understand that teams, whether in sports, at the office, or at home, need leadership and guidance. And proof is all around us that leadership and coaching can make a HUGE difference. Jim Harbaugh took the 49ers from what was a mediocre, at best, team for more than a decade to within one game of the Super Bowl. And Bill Parcells, who apparently might be coming back to the NFL, was well known for his affiliation for reclamation projects. But the Los Angeles Clippers need look no further than their Eastern Conference basketball brethren, the New York Knicks, to see that coaching can make all the difference. After the contagious excitement that surrounded Jeremy Lin’s insertion into the starting lineup (I refuse to utter the words and countless phrases that seemed to hijack our lives for about three weeks) simmered, the Knicks began to lose games. A lot of them. Even with the return of what are widely considered their two best players, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. So the Knicks did what a lot of teams do. They fired their coach. Well, actually he resigned. Mike D’Antoni had had enough. Enough of the speculation of his imminent firing. Enough of receiving the majority of the blame for the team’s negative turnaround. Just enough. So, as predictably, Mike Woodson takes over. And even more predictably, D’Antoni’s former assistant gets the team to play. To play hard. And more importantly, he gets them to win. Now, that’s what you call good coaching, right? Right?

I don’t think so. Here’s my humble opinion, for what it’s worth. Pop warner and little league teams need guidance. Junior high school kids need coaching. And high school and college kids need to be coddled and kicked in the rear end more than both of the first two groups combined. But professional athletes need to accept responsibility for what they control. Maybe if Carmelo Anthony took better shots, Mike D’Antoni would have been a better coach. Maybe if Amare Stoudemire would have gotten back on defense every once in a while before the coaching change (he’s miraculously played much better since, as has the rest of the team), Mike D’Antoni would have been a better coach. Maybe if Jeremy Lin was a little more assertive in getting his more senior, higher-paid, and less modest teammates to follow him, Mike D’Antoni would have been a better coach. But none of this happened. At least not when Mike D’Antoni was the coach. And he lost his job because of it.

Now I’m not criticizing Stoudemire, Anthony, and Lin just to pile on. All of what I said, and much more, has been uttered by “experts” throughout the sports world. I, in fact, really enjoy watching all three players. And Mike D’Antoni may very well have been a bad coach. Maybe his system, which had been successful in Phoenix, didn’t fit the Knicks roster and he failed to adjust, as any great leader should. Or maybe it would have just taken more time, as many level-minded sports fans suggest, for the team to mesh together. After all, the three key cogs to the team—Anthony, Stoudemire, and Lin– have only been teammates for less than half of a shortened season. Amidst the mesh of facts and opinion, I merely mention what clearly were dramatic shifts in attitude and play as a way of emphasizing what professionals should do at all times. Instead of attributing to the problem, they—we—should do our best to be part of the solution. If leadership is a problem, if you think you have a better way of doing things, or if you have an issue with something that is being done, then speak up. Otherwise, be quiet, put your head down, and go to work. Don’t undermine the authority and the success of the team unless you are adult enough to attempt to make a change. While we obviously see sports scenarios like this play out in front of us on television, it applies to any professional setting. Little kids don’t have the nerves or confidence to speak up. Junior high and high school kids do, but they usually don’t know what they are talking about. But we adults do. We should have the confidence to speak up. And we should have the knowledge to be able to make a difference in our workplace. If we don’t than we should be just shut up anyway.

In my humble opinion, the “coach has lost the team” argument might fly with kids. But for us adults, come on!

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About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

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