Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

 ALL POSTS

Cool coaches

Q: University of Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, who was just voted ACC Coach of the Year, gets so frenzied during games that he sweats through his suits. How does that arm-waving, finger-jabbing style contribute to his team's success? And why do other successful coaches pride themselves on their composure?

Screaming til the veins stood out on his neck and forehead, eyes blazing and face as red as his baseball cap, the late Gene Mauch was my coaching idol in my younger days.

The legendary manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1960s was notorious for his emotional displays, particularly in the presence of umpires and losing pitchers. He threw chairs and overturned buffet tables in the clubhouse during the team's late-season collapse in the 1964 pennant race. I grew up thinking that yelling and cussing and throwing furniture was normal coaching behavior.

But that was (and is) just typical Philadelphia sports style, and largely ineffective. Mauch became known as one of the best managers never to win a pennant.

Tom Landry later captured my imagination, a quiet, intense presence on the sidelines of the Dallas Cowboys, the team he coached to 20 consecutive winning seasons and two Super Bowl titles. Underneath that brimmed felt hat, Landry's eyes saw everything while his body language showed nothing. His impassive demeanor belied a coaching intelligence that made him a football legend and role model for coaching success.

Between the extremes of the pugnacious Mauch and passive Landry, coaching demeanors run the gamut from the highly emotional engagement of Maryland's Gary Williams to the utterly cool posture of Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager now with the L.A. Dodgers. These successful coaches have both won the biggest games (NCAA Championship, World Series Championship) and suffered through years of disappointment.

Emotionally demonstrative coaches walk a fine line between showing their devotion to the game and becoming abusive.

During a recent basketball game at Trinity, I observed the coach for the other team repeatedly shouting at his players and berating them in ways that were painful to witness -- and that team was winning! Our Trinity coach, disappointed that our team kept missing shots, never raised her voice, even though she felt like screaming on a few plays. (I screamed, but I was in the stands!) Ultimately, Trinity won the game, and I could see how our coach's patience with our players motivated them to improve their game.

In today's increasingly corporate environments for both collegiate and professional sports, coaches have to be unflappable. Modern professional sports managers are directing talent pools whose total payroll is in the hundreds of millions of dollars; collegiate coaches run enterprises that are equally valuable to their universities. Winning and losing is no longer just about the game itself, but about expectations for large returns on huge investments.

With so much at stake, the pressure on coaches is enormous. Successful coaching starts with the ability to control the players -- who they are, how they train, what skills they develop, how the team functions, what strategies can win. Team owners and college presidents will assess the emotional maturity of coaches to be sure that they can control and lead the athletes. A coach who cannot control his or her own emotions will hardly be able to impose discipline on the team.

Too much cool, however, can be disastrous. In the last catastrophic Redskins season, Jim Zorn never lost his cool. He did lose his job. His team lacked the passion to win. Zorn's demise is a cautionary tale for those who want coaches to be low-key, sensitive, thoughtful managers of expensive talent.

Sometimes, the coach needs to be a lightening rod to spark the team's desire. A reasonably calibrated display of emotion by a coach can be an essential part of fostering team success.

Last season I found myself wishing that, just once, Zorn had thrown a chair.

By Patricia McGuire  |  March 15, 2010; 12:01 AM ET  | Category:  coaching Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Whatever works | Next: The true test of a coach

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company