Gutman: Rethinking franchise operations

There needs to be a fundamental re-evaluation of the way in which sports franchises operate. Ownership presently cooperates with the general manager and president of most teams to make decisions regarding personnel and coaching. If someone must be blamed for a lack of success, that someone is the coach, the man left out of this group.

The National Hockey League and National Basketball Association are demanding leagues. Every franchise pays massive salaries to its players and coaches and demands success. But sometimes unreasonable expectations can place teams in cycles of failure. Six NHL coaches have been fired already during the 2008-’09 season. Eight NBA coaches — more than a full quarter of the coaches in the league — have gone the way of Detroit’s auto workers and received their pink slips during this campaign.

The most recent NBA firing was Suns coach Terry Porter, and his treatment exemplifies the problems with organizational structure of professional sports. This offseason, the Suns, a team known for its high-octane offense and World War II France-esque defense, hired Porter to make the team more defense-oriented. They also brought in Shaquille O’Neal at last year’s trade deadline, who has the speed of a Chevy Impala with a hippo strapped to the top.

Porter was faced with an impossible task — to take a team full of players who care only about scoring and turn them into a team that fights for rebounds and contests every jump shot. So he was fired four months into his three-year contract.

Who assembled the players who don’t care about defense? The Suns’ general manager, Steve Kerr. Who decided to commit to a more defensive style by hiring Porter, despite clearly lacking the right personnel? Kerr again. And who fired the coach while the team was only one spot out of the playoffs at the midway point of the season? You guessed it, Kerr.

Porter barely had time to implement his system, let alone make it work, before he was shown the door. It is true that he was a poor fit for the team, but when Porter was fired, Kerr should have been canned as well. Kerr screwed up in firing Mike D’Antoni in an effort to become more defensive-minded, but he was not accountable for his mistake. The only man accountable was Porter, who actually did a relatively good job given his situation.

But Kerr never has to pay, because he works with the ownership to make the team’s decisions. Poor coach.

In the NHL’s Southeast division of five teams, the longest-tenured coach is the Washington Capitals’ Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau has barely a full season under his belt. NHL coaches seem to come and go on a seasonal basis, kind of like flavored lattes at Starbucks. New York Rangers coach Tom Renney seems to be one of the fortunate ones, as he lasted into his fifth season.

It’s not like Renney deserved to keep his job. In his four-plus seasons Renney was over 40 games above the .500 mark. In this season of woe on Broadway, Renney’s Rangers were in fifth place in the Eastern Conference (eight teams make the playoffs). But general manager Glen Sather thought Renney could not lead the Rangers to a championship, so Sather made the change.

But who is really to blame for assembling the team of overpaid under-performers? Sather. Who consistently scares off useful talent, like former Ranger Jaromir Jagr? Sather. Who is, according to ESPN’s Scott Burnside, one of the most overrated individuals in the National Hockey League? Sather.

Renney had done well to get this hockey team to gel and perform at a playoff level for his five years in New York. Sather’s constant turnover, mediocre drafting and poor financial decisions never kept Renney from putting a winning squad on the ice. But Sather decided to make the change anyway.

There’s a clear trend emerging. Coaches are on too short a leash. They aren’t given the latitude nor the longevity to implement the plans for which they are hired. It’s win now or go home.

The ones who are given the time to build a franchise, the general managers, are the least accountable and can change coaches to try to mask their incompetence. Here’s a message to all of the sports team owners: Don’t blame the coach if your team isn’t performing up to standards. Look at the man who put the team together. Even if he’s your buddy.

Collin Gutman is a junior in Pierson College.

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