No one feels sorry for coaches, especially at the major college and professional levels. They spend every day doing what most of us do for recreation. They’re celebrities. And they’re extremely well-paid — in some cases, even years after getting fired.
But coaching, for all its potential rewards, has got to be one of the most frustrating jobs in the world, for the simple reason that everybody thinks he — and I do mean “he” — can do it. There’s an old saying that every guy truly believes he can do three things better than any other guy: Coach a ball team, grill steaks and one that I can’t mention in a family newspaper.
Can you imagine, for instance, arm-chair quarterbacking your dentist? Or telling your plumber how to plumb? We pay those people to do things for us either because we can’t do them ourselves — and we know it — or else we don’t want to. But we’ll gladly pay some guy $3 million to coach our football team and then spend the next five years telling him how to do it.
Of course a guy who’s making that kind of money can put up with a few (thousand) obnoxious fans. Unfortunately, though, the desire to coach the coach extends all the way down to the high school level, where coaches make approximately $2,950,000 less than that.
(Actually, it extends all the way down into the rec leagues, where coaches are volunteers — and where any second-guessing bozo in the stands could have volunteered had he cared to.)
I recently overheard a parent who had never coached for a living give a 35-year coaching veteran a half-hour lecture on what he ought to be doing. This boggles the mind on many levels.
First of all, if a guy’s been coaching high school ball for 35 years, either he really knows what he’s doing or else he has photographs of high-ranking school officials in compromising positions.
Second, compared to what a veteran coach knows about the game, the typical fan — even one who played in high school or college — knows practically nothing. It’s like the difference between a banker and someone who has a checking account.
Maybe I take all this a bit too personally because I’ve coached for so long myself, including 13 years as a small college basketball coach and athletic director. (I gave it all up to become a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist. Hasn’t worked out yet.)
During one game, when my team was getting pummeled, I’d about had it with the hecklers in the stands, shouting out brilliant advice such as “Put in so-and-so” or “Take out so-and-so” or — my favorite — “Tell’em to play defense.” (Gee, wish I’d thought of that.) I turned to my assistant and said, “What a bunch of idiots.”
“Well, Coach,” he replied, “you don’t exactly have to pass a test to get into the building.”
Rob Jenkins is a free-lance writer who lives in Lawrenceville. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.