Ousted, canned, axed or “relieved of their duties.” Sports coaches are fired at such a rapid rate that the media even created a word for it in Football: Black Monday. But what are the reasons for their departure at both the youth and professional levels? Is it all about a lack of winning or is it more complicated than that?
Why Do Coaches Get Fired? For youth coaches, they may display abusive language and conduct, on and off field. They could also overwork the athletes. Professional coaches though, may not have won enough games, disagreed with the general manager/owner or showed total disregard for player contracts and clauses.
John Tortorella, Team USA’s 3 x time World Cup Hockey coach, said that “coaching is the best job in the world, and it can be the worst job in the world.” Sport can be a cruel thing with many moving parts, varying greatly in youth versus professional sports. So to appropriately discuss both levels of sports, I have split this post into two sections. The first looks at why youth sports coaches get fired, then part two looks at why professional coaches get axed. This post is harsh but unfortunately true.
Why Do Coaches Get Fired? Youth Sports Coaches vs Professional Coaches
|Youth Sports||Professional Sports|
|Abusive, disrespectful language and conduct||They didn’t win enough games|
|Bullying behavior||Rocky relationship with owners and management|
|Disagreement with club officials and management||Coach / Player relationships|
|Inappropriate use of social media and cell phones||Lack of on and off field discipline|
|Poor communication skills|
|Disregard for load management|
Youth Sports – Why Coaches get Fired
While professional sports coaches are usually fired due to a failure to win enough games, the same performance indicator is not used in youth sports.
Well, it shouldn’t be anyway.
Kids want to play sports to have fun as we explained here, What are the Responsibilities of a Youth Sports Coach? and many kids don’t even consider winning in their top 10 reasons to play sport anyhow.
But often youth coaches have different priorities and feel the need to win above all else, even when coaching 6-year-old little league. Yes, even mimicking their “friends” coaching NBA techniques. They favor kids with natural talent, or their own child, instead of giving all players the opportunity to try new positions and make mistakes.
This kind of behavior is often not looked at fondly by good youth sports clubs and administrators. They don’t want parents knocking at their door after every game complaining their child isn’t getting enough burn. They don’t want the officials of the league complaining to them about the coach who is ruining the opportunity for junior umpires to learn by constantly hurling abuse and foul language in their direction.
So it’s often easier to simply remove them. But the challenge in youth sports is the ability to find a new coach quickly. It’s not like the NFL where coaches are lining up just waiting for their turn at the big league. It’s more like a “hey, can you coach the team this year? We are desperate!”
This means coaches may remain in their position until an appropriate replacement can be found unless of course, they did something wildly inappropriate requiring immediate termination of their contract.
So while firing in youth sports still happens, it may not be to the speed and consistency it occurs in professional sports.
I mention in the table above that youth sports coaches are often fired due to:
- Abusive, disrespectful language and conduct
- Bullying behavior
- Inappropriate use of social media and cell phones
- Poor communication skills
- Disregard for load management
Let’s explore these further.
Abusive, Disrespectful Language and Conduct
This kind of behavior doesn’t allow youth athletes to feel safe when taking the shot, trying a new position or just “going for it.” Being terrified to make a mistake can have an enormous impact not only on the sports field but also at school and home. They can become nervous and almost paralyzed to make new friends and step outside their comfort zone, crippling them as they develop into their teenage years.
These coaches have no place in youth sports and often are surrounded by unhappy parents advocating for their child. Club administrators often let these coaches go before too much more damage can be done.
As an example, an assistant coach was let go by the Littleton Hockey Association for giving a pre-game “pep talk” to his players, full of profanity and sexual references. He told the teens to, “F— their coaches! F— their wives! F— their friends!” (source) It’s probably best this guy steps away from the game for a while.
Just on a side note, some coaches will quit before getting fired because they feel such enormous stress from parents and club administrators to act in a certain way, so it’s easier to let coaching go. We have written two posts that explores this tender topic: Obnoxious parents and When to Quit Coaching Sports?
Youth sports coaches are in a powerful position in maintaining kid’s interests in sports. But often the “bully” coach is the reason why kids lose interest and even hope they get benched so they won’t be yelled at anymore.
Bully coaches set an extremely high standard for their players, often unreachable for most, which strip the fun out of playing sports. Even when kids try and do better, attempting to reach their expectations, it’s often never enough.
Too often these coaches get promoted because they win games and have an impressive coaching record but eventually they are found out and told to leave as more and more players, particularly the talented ones start to quit or switch the less competitive sports with their friends.
Related post: Is Youth Sports Too Intense? A Message For Our Coaches
Inappropriate Use of Social Media and Cell Phones
Taking photos and capturing video of youth sports players is allowed, but there typically must be a valid, often documented, parent’s consent before they are used.
Coaches who get overly excited, snapping photos and pressing record without consent can find themselves in some very hot water with club management and parents.
Some coaches have also been fired for sharing these images and videos across social media again without the parent’s consent. In most cases sharing these photos is for a positive reason, with no intention to cause harm but rules are rules.
A good example of this is Roosevelt High School’s head coach Trey Porter, who was fired due to coming a little too close to the school’s policy on social media. Porter stated that as a way of keeping in touch with their kids who don’t have cell phones, to ensure their safety of course, was to use Facebook messenger and Facebook Calls when the kids are in WIFI hotspots. This was in violation of school policies and as such, was told to pack his bags. (source)
Poor Communication Skills
Poor communication can take many forms such as:
- Giving athletes poor, unmotivating direction and guidance
- Not informing players, coaches and parents of changes to practice and game times
- Avoiding conversations with parents and others in the community instead of being transparent.
- Inability to organize their team. See Why Do Sports Coaches Need To Be Organized? for more information.
While one scenario in isolation is often not grounds to fire somebody, the repetitive nature of this poor communication can make enough people angry, demanding change.
I once had a basketball coach who was fired for this exact reason. He would sit on the bench covered in a blanket, holding an iPad, with his plays and statistic on it. He never stood up, didn’t even move for a time out and whenever play stopped, we need to sit around him. Talk about unmotivating and a mental drain to be around!
Disregard For Load Management
Early specialization is one thing, but the need for kids to repetitively train and play every day, almost at the rate of their favourite sports star, isn’t required.
Lebron James tweeted, “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through.” He went on to say “I think [AAU] has something to do with it, for sure. It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just f—ing out of control. That’s just too much”.(source)
5 games a day!? What! The sad part about this is it’s not an isolated event. Tournaments like this are occurring every weekend right around the country and coaches are being sucked into the hype.
While the kids may not see an issue with this type of physical burden, we as adults know this is simply too much. This kind of impact even on a young, fit body can lead to overuse injury and preventable surgeries. I referenced an impressive TED Talk in this post that dives into overuse injuries and why they are happening across youth sports. It’s well worth a look.
Youth coaches who continually sign their team up for these tournaments will eventually risk being fired, once it’s clear players (or multiple players) are unable to play due to injury.
The sad part though is often these injuries are not obvious for a few years, missing the opportunity for the coaches to “pay the price” for this kind of unnecessary, intensive coaching
Early specialization is a huge caveat to this which needs attention. Coaches can face the firing line, if club management and cluey parents have their eyes open, to see that kids as young at 6,7,8 years old need to play a variety of sports to develop different motor skills and mentally explore new environments, friends, rules and coaches. Often this is not the case as it can apparently “ruin” the chance of obtaining a college scholarship because other, better-prepared kids will take their spot.
While there is a fine balance regarding load management when playing multiple sports too, good coaches and smart parents will make it work. Read How Beginner Youth Sports Coaches Can Earn Player Respect
Disrespect for League Rules
Some coaches can be very cunning, trying to “blindfold” officials and get ahead of the competition.
As an example, a St. Louis high school has immediately “canceled the rest of their football season and fired every coach on staff after a suspended player wore a different number and participated in a game”. Bill Jackson, thy player in question was supposed to be serving a one-game suspension but instead played in their season opener, listed as a Freshman with a fake name. (source) Watch the ESPN Video below which explains the whole story.
Professional and Semi-professional Sports – Why Coaches get Fired?
On the other end of the spectrum, the reason why coaches get fired in professional sports looks very different.
It is all about winning and money, mostly. If you coach a professional sports team, somebody else is paying big bucks for star recruits, venues and coaches. If you can’t bring home the biscuit, what’s the point of having you leading the team? The firing of Washington Redskins Coach Jay Gruden is a prime example. (source)
Sport at this level seems to be no longer about developing your players as better human beings and building resilience, but more about x’s and o’s. It’s about who wins and who loses. A stark contrast to youth sports.
Life as a professional sports coach is a tough gig. When the chips are down everyone is looking for somebody to blame. The general manager, president and owners hate losing games. Losing doesn’t fill a stadium and it certainly doesn’t sell memberships. While these “powerhouse” leaders could be the root of the problem, they are not going to fire themselves in a hurry so the next best option is outing the coach.
When coaches can’t pick their quarterback, and the QB fails, the fired coach has been set up. If the coach picks the QB, the QB buck stops with that coach.Forbes
But in the same token, if you have success in your given sport, how long can you sustain it for? No coach can stay on top forever and will either retire, move on or get fired if these wins are not maintained. A terrifying thought even for the most successful coach.
While winning does seem to be everything, some professional coaches argue that they are not given enough time to develop their team and understand the player’s abilities. Rey Dempsey, ex- Memphis State football coach said, ‘‘Two years is not enough for anybody…I signed a five-year contract because it’s generally accepted across the country that it takes this amount of time to start winning consistently”. (source)
So while winning is a big factor, there are also other reasons why professional coaches get the boot. Let’s explore those.
Rocky Relationship With Owners and Management
Professional sports coaches can find themselves in a tricky position when they disagree with the direction the general manager (GM) wants to take the team.
Often the GM has the final say on the makeup of the organization, requiring buy-in and acceptance from the head coach.
If they can’t reach an agreement, often the coach loses out.
There are millions and millions of dollars at play at a professional sports level. It’s big business. While the coach may see potential in a player or want to give a particular athlete a “chance”, often the leaders of the team disagree with that “gut instinct”, forcing a wedge in their relationship.
Have you ever heard Dwane Casey’s story? Well, just to walk down memory lane for a moment. He coached the Toronto Raptors from 2011 – 2018 and was pretty darn successful during this time – but he didn’t win a Championship. The year he was fired, 2018, he was named NBCA Coach of the Year and the NBA Coach of the Year. Talk about a whirlwind of emotions for the poor man! Owners and GM’s want championships, plain and simple. (source)
Coach Player Relationships
In professional sports the star of the team, ie the LeBron James’ and pretty much every quarterback in football, call the shots. Well not publicly from a media perspective, but behind closed doors, the relationship can be tense, to say the least.
If you have an All-Star Player being paid millions per season to put points on the board for the team, to say they have some “pull” is an understatement. If there happens to be a disagreement in the direction the head coach sees the team headed and where the star player wants to take the team, things can get very interesting.
Often the owners, presidents and GMs will take the side of the player, leaving the coach to pack up their things and go home. A reported example of this in the NBA was between Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy in their time at the Orlando Magic.
Lacks On and Off Field Discipline
Everyone is capable of doing dumb things, even when you make a bucket load of money and coach professional sports.
Everyone is capable of gambling, verbal and physical abuse, drink driving or taking drugs, when put into that situation whether it is right or wrong.
As an example, The University of Tulsa’s athletic director, Ross M. Parmley, was fired for gambling on football games in violation of NCAA regulations in 2012. And in 2017, Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster was fired after a video emerged of him snorting white powder with a rolled-up $20 bill. (source)
In an example of on-field behavior, in March 2019, Georgia Tech dismissed its head women’s basketball coach, MaChelle Joseph’s, after “concerns about player and staff mistreatment.” Players in the team described feeling “insecure, nervous, anxious, and scared at various points in the season and in their careers”. (source)
And how can we forget Bob Knight? The head basketball coach at Indiana and Texas Tech who was known for his basketball brilliance and exceptional knowledge of the game…and also for his outlandish behavior. In 2000, university president Myles Brand reached breaking point, firing him. (source)
Finally, remember Coach Mike Rice? He was fired as head coach of Rutgers University Basketball after a video emerged in 2013 (see below) showing him physically abusing his players by throwing basketballs at them during practice. (source)
Summary: Why Do Coaches Get Fired?
Getting fired as a sports coach is almost a game in itself.
The most common reason for professional sports coaches getting the sack is based on results. While others make silly decisions, leaving the club president, owner and GM’s with no choice but to let them go.
Whether it’s wrong or right, this is the reality of sports coaching and those who enter the arena need to not only be incredibly knowledgeable about the game, they also need to have a thick skin. You are only a day away from the dream being over and you may not even know it’s coming!
Are there other reasons why coaches get fired?