Can A Coach Be Fair & Intelligent?


I’m not sure how close you follow the Kansas City Chiefs. During the NFL Draft, the Chiefs gave up three draft picks to move up 19 positions to take their man.  He was Patrick Mahomes II, a quarterback from Texas Tech. Fans looked to the stars and thanked the Chiefs for finally putting veteran quarterback, Alex Smith, on the bench.

 

Those fans had screamed for Smith’s benching, claiming he never threw it deep and wasn’t capable of winning a playoff game. Those same fans were ready to fire head coach, Andy Reid, when he announced Smith was his starting quarterback. Those same fans now yelled Reid must just be playing favorites and not do what’s the smart for the team. Why draft a quarterback so high if you weren’t going to play him?

 

Jump forward to Thursday night. Smith was 28 – 35 passing for 368 yards and four touchdowns. Now I hear fans calling Reid a genius. He drafted Mahomes only to motivate Smith. They had it all along. Reid is one of the most intelligent coaches in the NFL.

 

That’s the great thing about fans. They can change without a memory of their previous actions. They can scream when they think a coach is being unfair to a player. If that team wins, the coach was unbelievably smart for motivating their player.

 

It’s not as easy being on the coaching side of things. As a high school coach, I once had a player with only one hand. A birth defect had left her right hand basically a stub with two pinchers at the end of the arm.

 

She wasn’t a bad player. The trouble with players that “aren’t bad” usually mean there are players better than her. This player with one hand played a little, but not enough for her mother. I received a letter from Mom at the end of the season claiming I only played high school players who partied. Since her daughter didn’t drink, I was not fair to her.

 

Mom never mentioned that her daughter only had one hand and that might be the reason she wasn’t playing much. I’m sure some of the players weren’t angels, but I couldn’t hold a kid out because of a rumor. The one-handed player quit. Just to show how much we missed her talent, we went undefeated the next year without her.

 

Sometimes it is really tough to determine what is fair to your players. The year after the one-hand player quit, I had a talented freshman that owned a varsity uniform all year. The problem was this freshman was wild.

 

My upper-classmen, no angels, had made a pledge not to party during the basketball season. The freshman didn’t like that restriction and continually violated it. My captains came to me with the problem.

 

As post season approached, I decided to take her varsity uniform away. I gave it to a sophomore that wasn’t near as talented. My idea was I wanted to have the freshman see the consequences of her wild ways. I hoped she would come back as an important member of our varsity team the next year.

 

Most people reading this would think I had made the right decision. As it turned out, it was absolutely the wrong strategy. That talented freshman never played basketball again. Basketball would have been a stabilizing force in her life, but my actions had caused her to turn away from the sport. I have always felt guilty about that decision.

 

Coaching is very complex. I know many people will disagree. They think it easy to pick out the best players and just win games. It’s never that easy. What’s smart for the team and what’s fair for the individual? It’s a difficult question to answer.

 

My best season at Northwest Missouri State was in 2011 when the team played in the National Final Four game. That was a great team with great leaders. One of my top recruits had emotional problems in the fall. She came back after Christmas to finish a red-shirt freshman season.

 

The player practiced with us, but often missed practices. I never question why she missed since my main focus was on my varsity team. After the season, a couple of seniors stopped by to see me. They let me know the freshman had missed practices because she was high or had been drinking. The senior leaders sent her home and kept the drama away from me and the team.

 

After the season, it came time to renew scholarships. I asked different campus leaders for advice. I asked my seniors for advice. I finally determined for this red-shirt freshman to be stabilized, I would not offer her a scholarship. She could walk-on or better yet, stay home and get better.

 

The player quit and finally decided to play for an NAIA team in Ohio. Of course, the player and her mother were furious with me. What was fair to the player? What was smart for the team? Its two questions that coaches in Maryville will ask themselves often this year. My only advice; good luck with that decision!

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