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March 27, 2014
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Vail Daily column: Turnstile speeds up

George Karl joked last summer that winning coach of the year really was a kiss of death.

Sure enough, within weeks, the coach who couldn’t advance the Nuggets further in the playoffs each year was replaced by a coach who won’t get them to the postseason this year.

A dozen NBA coaches, out of 30 teams, were canned after last season, a record.

Five NFL coaches from the 20 teams that didn’t make the playoffs got cut on “Black Monday,” right after the regular season ended. Presumably, the 12 coaches of the playoff teams are safe, unless the NFL takes a page from the NBA and owners lose patience with winning programs for not winning enough.

Changing head coaches like, well, you know, doesn’t seem to work well unless we’re talking about Phil Jackson. He won championships in his first year with teams twice now.

Then you have coaches like Gregg Popovich, who has coached the San Antonio Spurs since 1996, and Bill Belichick, who has coached the New England Patriots since 2000.

Did they each win four-five championships in their sports because of their job security with owners who believe in that, or are they so good that they have enjoyed rare longevity?

Like CEOs, city managers and chamber directors, head coaches take their jobs knowing they most likely will be fired in the end. The expiration date on these jobs approaches bananas these days. Even winning won’t necessarily help, particularly in the NBA.

This is even with the experience of the Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins, Charlotte Bobcats et al — teams notorious for their coaching churn. You’d think owners would figure that much out.

Maybe the bane of the boomer generation, that craving for instant gratification, has infected professional sports.

For all the tough talk about firing fast, it’s nonsense.

There’s a place for letting go, no question, even letting go swiftly for ethical breaches, lack of effort, outright rebellion.

Some of the modern leadership gurus get caught up in the quest for excellence, suggesting anyone who isn’t an all-star should get cut. And someone who appears to be an all star with one outfit winds up fabulously overpaid to flop with the next.

The elusive recipe for true and lasting success, I suspect, includes more than sprinkles of such ingredients as commitment, persistence, patience, consistency, constancy, along with a good deal of that secret sauce, luck.

These seemingly boring cousins to charismatic talent, creativity, personality and other sparks of genius that charge the very air actually are the foundational elements for cooking up that champion. The sugar might taste great, but the cake don’t bake without the flour mixed just right.

No question, talent by itself goes the farthest alone. And that’s probably the mirage taking so many teams off course, mistaking talent for The Ticket.

The Spurs are the most interesting team since John Wooden patiently molded UCLA a long time ago into eventually winning 10 NCAA championships in the last 12 years of his coaching career in the ’60s and ’70s. He started with the Bruins in 1948. While the team did well, it took 16 long years at UCLA before he finally won his first NCAA championship.

Spurs coach Popovich is the NBA’s longest-serving active coach in his 16th season in San Antonio. He’s been blessed with good players, but the real hallmarks of the Spurs are those poor cousin qualities that develop the teamwork necessary in a small market for less pure talent than half the league to win and consistently compete for championships.

They don’t always win, of course. But they win more consistently than anyone — in any major sport — with less talent and less money at their disposal than other teams in bigger markets.

Too bad the Nuggets threw this playbook away.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 28, 2014 08:03PM Published Mar 27, 2014 04:33PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.