Sunday, October 18, 2009

How Are They Selecting Coaches These Days?

Day in the Life of Allyson Felix - Day 3

Recently I talked about the elite level of the sport and the effect that money has had as the sport has attempted to grow from an amateur sport into a professional one. The "growing pains" that have stressed the sport on the money front has seemingly spilled over to the coaching front.

I say that after reading on Friday that Veronica Campbell Brown is leaving Lance Brauman - the coach that has guided her to nine World and Olympic medals, including three gold. The coach that she is leaving him for is Anthony Carpenter. No offense to Carpenter, but everyone I've talked to so far is asking : who is Anthony Carpenter?

Carpenter may indeed be a good coach, I don't know. And that is really the crux of the matter. Because it seems that only in track and field do athletes at the elite level choose to move from "proven" coaches to "non proven" coaches.

For example. You would never see the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, or New England Patriots have a successful campaign and then come back the following season and hire the equivalent of an intern to guide them through the next season. But it would appear that this is exactly what Veronica Campbell Brown (VCB) is going to do!

But she is not alone. In recent seasons we’ve seen, Xavier Carter (10.00/19.63) and Wallace Spearmon (9.96/19.65) jumping on the coaching carrousel and leave prominent coaches right on the cusp of the Olympic season itself. And the coaching move of Jeremy Wariner from quarter miler guru Clyde Hart to assistant Michael Ford has been one of the most chronicled coaching changes ever. Wariner went from Olympic gold medalist and two time World Champion to consistent runner up to Lashawn Merritt while running nearly a second slower as a result of his downgrading of coaches! Losing Olympic and World Championships gold in the process.

In other professional sports, it’s the struggling teams that take on unproven coaching talent. In part because they can't afford the higher profile coaches, and in part because most top level coaches don't want to take on reclamation projects!

In professional basketball Phil Jackson and Larry Brown are commodities whose services cause bidding wars. In track and field, Lance Brauman and John Smith seem to have great difficulty attracting the top sprint talent any more - and Trevor Graham has been shelved and shunned. Yet these men have produced most of the US men's sprint medals this decade - and Brauman took Tyson Gay to 9.84/19.63 before Tyson changed coaches!

In any other sport these men would have the Lakers, Cowboys, Yankees, and other top teams bidding wildly for their services. When Mo Greene retired you would have thought that sprinters with the talent of Wallace Spearmon, Xavier Carter, Darvis Patton, Mike Rodgers, and Ivory Williams would be lined up doing what Mo Greene did in 1996 - asking Smith to teach him how to be a champion. I mean, wouldn't YOU take a chance on the coach of champions such as Steve Lewis (Olympic gold and silver), Quincy Watts (Olympic gold), and Mo Greene (Olympic gold and bronze, along with four World gold)? Yet, since Greene's retirement the top male sprinters have chosen to go elsewhere to learn their craft - only in track and field. Yet if there's any question that Smith still has "it" look no further than Carmelita Jeter who took advantage of that "opening" and this season became #2 all time in the women's 100!

Yet, ironically as Jamaican sprinters are finding success by flocking to their country's top sprint coaches in droves, we here in the US seem to be slipping as our athletes are running the other way from our top coaches! Spearmon had great success with Braumann, but left to train with his father. Carter began having success with Holloway (in spite of injury) but left. Wariner was seemingly on his way to the WR in the 400 but left Hart - and my grapevine says that Sanya Richards is considering a similar move. Does anyone think that the Lakers will be getting rid of Phil Jackson any time soon? I didn't think so.

I understand that athletes have their own reasons for these moves. I've heard that many athletes don't want to move to live in Los Angeles for example. I understand wanting to "stay home" and work. But people in professional sports - as well as professionals in many other industries- understand that to make the money you think you deserve, sometimes you have to make a move to another location. It's called a business decision.

It was no secret that Wariner felt that Hart's services had become too expensive. But after a season and a half of less that the best results, Wariner must have come to the conclusion that it had been money well spent as he chose to rehire Hart to once again take the reigns of his career! After all in sports, as with other endeavors in life, you get what you pay for - and you don't get Porsche performance at a Yugo price tag!

Just as I feel that the sport needs to be more professional in its methodology of getting its athletes paid, I feel that its athletes need to take a more professional approach in how they choose the people that are most responsible for their performances - and therefore their revenue base. Professional sports franchises refuse to select anything less than the best when they feel they have the other pieces in place to make a move towards winning championships. Likewise, I would think that an athlete looking to reach the podium of an Olympics or World Championships competition, would be looking at hiring a coach that has a proven track record of success. After all, I don't think any of them would hire an ordinary mechanic to work on a Ferrari, so why hire less than the best to train their body?

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